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Sunday 4 February 2018

‘How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway

Published by Sphere,
30 November 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5530-1 (PBO)

Some crime and mystery novels are primarily about the crime or mystery; others focus on the characters. The best kind succeeds in doing both – and that definition places this standalone novel firmly among the best.

It's set in a small town in upstate New York – not the city, but the huge rural hinterland which lies behind it, studded with small settlements not unlike Jessica Treadwell's fictional one. The meticulously drawn community has been rocked by the murder of a teenage girl, and the story interleaves the present-day impact of the crime on several families in the town with events which led up to the killing.

In the present-day storyline, the community's only black resident is swiftly arrested for the murder, following evidence given to the police. The acting police chief is very keen to clear the matter up quickly, but his son-in-law is less sure of the man's guilt. And of course, in mystery fiction nothing is ever as straightforward as it appears.

That half of the plot is woven around the son-in-law's dilemma, and also around the various complicated relationships which have arisen between other key characters. Treadwell sets out to show how this kind of major tragedy can cut a swathe through an apparently stable community; marriages rock and falter, secrets are revealed, and people turn out not to be what others thought they were.

The other timeline shows that there is more to the victim than appears on the surface, and the suspect is arguably the most complex of all; but everyone, even the minor players, has a backstory which unfolds in both layers. I was put in mind of Dennis Lehane's classic Mystic River, although Treadwell's plot is tighter and less sprawling, and when the culprit is finally revealed there has been so much misdirection that the surprise comes with more than a hint of inevitability. But by then it hardly matters; cosmic justice has already been served. The main characters have been dealt with as they deserve, the community is in recovery, and all that remains is loose ends.

I hadn't encountered Jessica Treadwell before, but on this showing, she is an experienced, sure-handed author with a keen eye for an interesting, character-led plotline. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to fans of both conventional murder mysteries and psychological thrillers.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Jessica Treadway is a native of Albany, New York, currently living in Boston. She received her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany before working as a news and feature reporter for United Press International. After studying for her master’s degree in the creative writing program at Boston University, she held a fellowship at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College and taught at Tufts University before joining the faculty at Emerson College, where she is a professor in the Department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing.
Her story collection Please Come Back to Me received the Flannery O'Connor Award For Short Fiction and was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2010. Her other books are Absent Without Leave, a collection of stories (Delphinium Books/​Simon & Schuster, 1992), and And Give You Peace, a novel (Graywolf Press, 2001). Her fiction has been published in The Atlantic, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, Glimmer Train, AGNI, Five Points, and other journals, and has been cited multiple times in The Best American Short Stories annual anthology.  In addition to her fiction, Jessica has published essays and book reviews for publications including The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and The Huffington Post. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. A former member of the Board of Directors of PEN-New England, where she served as co-chair of the Freedom to Write Committee, she lives in Lexington, Massachusetts with her husband, Philip Holland.
Photograph courtesy of Levine photography

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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