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Thursday 3 August 2023

‘Don’t Look Away’ by Rachel Abbott

Published by Wildfire,
3 August 2023.
978-1-03540338-7 (PB)

A skeleton is found in a barely accessible cave on the rocky Cornish coast near the village of Trevyan, and Detective Sergeant Stephanie King is tasked to investigate. But a few days later she is distracted by a cold case. Fifteen-year-old Lola was reported missing during a family holiday eleven years ago, and though Stephanie herself was on the case as a young junior officer, the teenager’s disappearance was never thoroughly investigated. Her sister Nancy has returned to Trevyan, and new evidence has turned up. Now DS Stephanie has two cases to solve, and as if that wasn’t enough, her private life has thrown up unexpected complications as well.

Two viewpoints and several time frames form an intricate basis for the third outing for Stephanie King. Her fraught relationship with DCI Gus Brodie is now firmly enough established for them to share a home when work allows; both that and the personal challenges they need to resolve serve to bring them to life and make the reader care about them as well as Nancy and whoever the skeleton belongs to.

A picture that goes back a dozen years or more emerges as Stephanie sets out search of evidence, and all kinds of questions are raised. Whose is the skeleton in the cave? What was the crime Nancy’s estranged Aunt Helen hinted at, and why did she leave her Cornish cottage to Nancy and not to her stepsons? Why did Liam, Nancy’s long ago holiday lover, bring their romance to an abrupt and cruel end? And what did happen to Lola eleven years ago, and why was she so upset the night she disappeared?   

Abbott’s huge skill at bringing characters to life and creating a highly visual background is already well proven, and a vital component of this richly drawn and page-turning story. She entices the reader in, and makes us believe that the prettiest, most peaceful Cornish village may have its dark side. Even the good guys leave you wondering what secrets they’re harbouring; I asked myself if ebullient Effie, who befriends Nancy, was too good to be true. The bad guys are very bad; indeed, the stalker on the cliff had me shivering though I was reading on the hottest day of the year. There are a few who manage to straddle both sides without losing our sympathy, but I’m offering no clues there.

Rachel Abbott has built an enviable reputation as a creator of complex characters in even more complex situations, in a true-to-life setting. Don’t Look Away will surely add more layers to that reputation.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Rachel Abbott was born just outside Manchester, England.   She became a systems analyst at the age of 21 in the early 1970s and formed her own software company in the mid-1980s designing computer programmes for education.   The company expanded into all forms of interactive media and became extremely successful. The sale of the company in 2000 enabled her to take early retirement and fulfil one of her lifelong ambitions - to buy and restore a property in Italy.  Once there she completely restored a ruined monastery and started a second successful business renting it out for weddings and conferences. In 2010 she embarked on her third career and wrote her first book Only the Innocent. She has now written fourteen books.

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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