The bad thing which takes centre stage in this novel is the disappearance of four year old twins Harry and Millie. I think I’ve probably had my fill of child abduction novels now but Riley gives it an original slant by exploring the after-effects of the abduction, fifteen years on when Jackie Wood, convicted of conspiracy to Harry’s murder (Millie was never found) has her sentence quashed on a technicality.
The aunt to the children, Alex (from whose garden they disappeared) is a freelance journalist and aims by getting a story from Wood to find out what happened to Millie.
It soon becomes clear that a lot of secrets have been kept from the time of the incident, and Alex becomes panicked when rumours of the existence of a diary kept by the man convicted for the killings surface. Detective Inspector Kate Todd was the Police Constable who discovered Harry’s body. This has led her to subsequently keep secrets from her husband. Kate finds herself involved in the case all over again. The bereaved mother is an emotional wreck, her policeman ex-husband might have been involved in some cover up and Alex’s latest flame keeps secrets for a living. All of these bad things will be revealed in the novel.
My verdict? It’s good, I enjoyed it. Debut author Mary Jane Riley was a BBC journalist who dealt often with grim crime news stories and this ability to convey a darker edge is used effectively in this novel. She gets across well the day to day misery of families attempting to cope with such a traumatic event, even many years later. She clearly highlights the seediness of the situation of Jackie Wood, freed without anyone believing in her innocence, calling for compensation on the court steps and with the odds too stacked against her to do anything with her life she would have been better off staying in prison.
The pace is consistent, secrets are revealed steadily and characterisation is solid. There’s enough mileage in Kate and the Suffolk coastal setting to sustain a series. This is a good debut.
Many thanks to Netgalley and to Harper Collins for providing this copy for review.
“The Bad Things” is published in the UK on August 27th.