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Saturday 18 June 2022

‘The Perfect Witness’ by Susanna Beard

Published by Joffe Books,
16 April 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-80405-136-8-1 (PB)

Imagine having a memory that retained every detail of your life, and gave you instant recall of each incident, the date and day of the week it took place, who was there, where it took place, and how you felt at the time. Useful? Yes, perhaps, in certain circumstances. But what if, as well as retaining all that information, that memory was on a hair trigger, and the smallest reminder pulled out detailed recall of an event and replayed it in your mind whether you wanted it or not? Wouldn’t that be more than a little disturbing?

That’s what happens to Daniel. What’s more, there’s one memory which keeps recurring, in dreams and when he’s awake: he saw his friend being viciously beaten, and a little later, a large bundle being thrown in a canal. This episode from his childhood horrified and appalled him at the time to the extent that he could tell no one what he had seen, and the vivid memories of it are no less distressing now he’s an adult. He has undergone various forms of therapy, but no one has got to the bottom of it, and now, aged thirty, he finds he is unable to hold down a job or form friendships. His sister is the only person he can talk freely to, and even she is beginning to lose patience with him.

When he loses his job, his girlfriend and his home within a few days, he decides it’s time to try to change things. The canal is a central factor in the memories which torment him; he resolves to spend the summer walking the canal paths in his home county and get to the bottom of the mystery. 

It’s part mystery, part coming-of-age story, part gentle romance, even part well evoked travelogue, peopled with colourful characters you’d recognize from Daniel’s descriptions if you followed in his footsteps: canal boat dwellers, pub landlords, holidaymakers – and Poppy, who has her own mission, and becomes a sympathetic companion as Daniel pursues his – both to find out exactly what happened that troubling day in his childhood, and to come to terms with his unusual and challenging mental condition.

Whether either mission succeeds is something you can only find out by reading this intriguing and distinctive book. Which I recommend you do.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Susanna Beard enjoys the writer's life, but also has an adventurous streak - she has swum with whale sharks in Australia, trekked in the mountains of Nepal and fallen down a crevasse in the French Alps.Her favourite quote is from Winnie-the-Pooh: "Stories make your heart grow." Apart from books, her passions include wildlife, dogs and tennis. She aims to keep writing, and never to get old.

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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