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Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Other Child. Charlotte Link (Writer), Stefan Tobler (Translator). Orion Books (2012)

A gripping and very engaging crime story. In the English seaside town of Scarborough a young student is murdered on her her way home. The case goes cold before a second murder, that of an elderly woman, is committed. Detective Inspector Valerie Almond leads the investigation into both murders and seeks a connection between the two. The second murder has a significantly different context to the first and the investigation throws up too many suspects instead of too few. Steadily the sins of the past start to be brought into the light and the power of the past to warp the present become horribly clear.
The structure of the story is masterfully set up and controlled by Charlotte Almond, there are a lot of moving parts to the story and a big and varied cast are involved. Everyone gets the space to make their presence felt and the interactions between the cast are vivid and sharp, in particular as the finger of suspicion starts to point very clearly in one direction.
The narrative is cleverly split among the past and the present and among the cast as past decisions came back to haunt everyone as they struggle with a very messy and uncertain present. One of the pleasures of the book is the way each of the cast are entangled in their own past actions before they combine and find themselves caught in a much bigger and messier briar patch from an unexpected quarter.
The story is very much an English village murder, a group of disparate people brought together through a variety of circumstances to a remote rural location where a highly charged event leads to a nasty conclusion. Everyone has a just enough of a fractured history to summon up a plausible possibility , with one person in particular having an outstanding motive. The skill that Charlotte Link brings to setting up reveals that nicely muddy the waters is a joy to read. The story from the past that slowly and steadily casts a shadow over the present is very carefully controlled. The repercussions of actions from decades before do not become fully clear until a razor sharp conclusion that arises with horrifying logic from the story.
At the same time Charlotte Link allows that the harrowing events may also be the force that was required for the survivors to finally forces them to their own circumstances and start to acknowledge a future rather than be tethered to a life sapping past. This is a welcome balance from the unflinching and very restrained descriptions of casual cruelty and astonishing selfishness that warp the lives of so many and seeps out to destroy others who are even marginally involved.
Stefan Tobler's translation is wholly transparent, the cast and the setting are never handled clumsily, it reads like a English story in every sense. 

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