I mentioned in an earlier review that I do love me an unconventional detective and thus I was really looking forward to reading this book. And, having been lucky enough to score and advance copy, I’ve just finished it and it didn’t disappoint. Maud is old. Maud is forgetful. She makes cups of tea and doesn’t drink them, makes toast and sets fire to the kitchen. But Maud is sure of one thing. Her best friend, Elizabeth, is missing. And Maud has to find her.
Emma Healey is making her debut with this unusual novel and she is, not to put too fine a point on it, disgustingly young. It’s likely there will be brickbats thrown her way just for that, but the chances are increased by the fact she’s written a novel in the first person and the narrator is over eighty years old. To me, it just made the level of insight Healey writes with all the more incredible. Maud is a living, breathing, fully three dimensional creation. As her grip on day to day life diminishes and her dogged monomaniacal quest to find Elizabeth strengthens, Maud will grip your mind and break your heart with every page turn.
But even the most skilled of authors would struggle to fill a book running to almost 300 pages with one dotty old woman who regularly forgets what she’s doing. As is true of most Alzheimer’s sufferers, while Maud has trouble remembering things that happened a few minutes before, the events of fifty years ago are recalled with piercing clarity and in minute detail. And Maud’s past harbours a dark secret, another mystery she couldn’t solve, even when she was in full control of her faculties. A few years after the end of World War II, Maud’s sister Sukey disappeared. Suspicion fell on her wayward husband, but nothing was ever proved and Sukey was never seen again.
Haunted by her past, Maud is determined to find Elizabeth but finds herself thwarted at pretty much every turn by her own failing brain power as well by Elizabeth’s son, who Maud is convinced is behind his mother’s disappearance. A word of advice for people thinking of reading this book: start it when you have a full day or two free so you can switch your phone off and lose yourself in the gorgeously written journey Maud goes on. Once you start, you won’t want to put this down until you reach the final page. Another word of advice though. If you have even the tiniest fear of growing older, then I would approach this with extreme caution. Healey nails Maud’s state of mind so accurately that if you share any of her concerns around ageing, then you might have a very different experience reading this than I did.
I’m not overly sure I agree with the review featured on the book jacket describing it as a psychological thriller though. It is not so much a “whodunnit” as it is a “has anyone actually done something?” and while I’d be tempted to deduct some points for the “eureka” moment towards the end, the whole book is so intricate, intelligent and delightful, it would just be mean of me. It is a richly satisfying read and despite the premise, one that will appeal to a far wider audience than the Cosy Crime demographic it is aiming for. Read it.
And one last note, one that you’ll need to remember is coming from a Kindle evangelist. Do not read this one in e-book format. Viking have done an absolutely bang up job with the book, it looks and feels gorgeous. More than one person I showed it to commented that it looked like I was reading an old fashioned Agatha Christie. I mean, look. It’s just perfect: