When Tess Piper is thirty five she receives a message from her father that she has been dreading for the past twenty years: you need to come home, this time it really does look as if they’ve found her. Tess is the younger and sub-dominate half of non-identical twins but when they were fifteen, ebullient and popular Edie went missing and despite an extensive police search and various false alarms over the years, the family is no nearer knowing what happened to her. Tess, at least on the surface, has always hoped that Edie is still alive and that at some point she will decide to come home, but now it looks as though this is never going to happen. So, Tess takes leave from her London based job and walks out of the flat that she is sharing with Max her now ex-partner of nine years and travels back to the West Midlands to be with her father, Vince, as they await the pathogist’s report. When the news comes through that it is indeed Edie’s body that has been found and that there can be no doubt but that foul play was involved, the police re-open the inquiry and the family, including Vince’s brother Ray and his wife Becca come under renewed scrutiny.
Told in alternate chapters from Tess and Edie’s point of view, with Edie’s narrative taking us from the twins’ tenth birthday to the moment of her disappearance, the story not only of what happened to her, but also to Gina, the girls’ mother, gradually unfolds. Are the Vickers, the oddly matched next door neighbours on the rundown estate where the family lives when we first meet them, somehow involved? Or is Max, once besotted with Edie and possibly only in a relationship with Tess as second best, to blame for what happened? Maybe Michaela, the older girl that Edie tags after when the family fortunes alter and they move to a ‘better’ neighbourhood had something to do with the disappearance? The police, both twenty years earlier and now, clearly think that someone in the family is behind the death and Vince and Ray’s attitudes towards staging an appeal or a reconstruction do nothing to assuage that view. Or what about Tess herself? She and Edie had argued that afternoon and their relationship, once so tight, had been strained for sometime as Edie fought for independence and Tess struggled to keep her twin close. Certainly Edie’s erstwhile friends, now eagerly engaged in the vicarious ‘pleasure’ of social media mud-slinging, are sure that the ‘creepy’ twin was somehow involved. Is it possible that Tess was responsible and has blanked out the memory?
I am going to ‘come clean’ on this. I was asked to read Someone You Know as a favour to a friend (not the author). However, although I love police procedurals, thrillers are not really my cup of tea, so I am probably not the ideal reader to judge the novel; I’m not well enough versed in the genre to know how it rates against the considerable opposition out there. It’s certainly well written and the dénouement when it arrives is plausible, although I think the subsequent conclusion is hurried through and some loose ends are left floating. The structure, although it is one which is frequently used (Sophie Hannah, for example, manipulated it to considerable effect in Little Face) I found less satisfying. I think this was because the chapters were so short, sometimes hardly a page in length, and I felt that I was having to switch focus too often and not being given the opportunity to really get to understand what was motivating either twin’s actions. And, I never really appreciated how the teenaged Tess became the Tess of the present day action; there was a disjunction there I felt needed addresssing somewhere in the course of the narrative.
But, this is a first novel and it may be very good of its type. It’s certainly very readable but it didn’t make me want to go rushing out and look for more thrillers. That is probably more my fault rather than the author’s. Perhaps some of the triller readers out there could try it and let me know what they think.
Someone You Know is Olivia Isaac-Henry’s first novel and it will be published on February 4th.