Title: The Life I Left Behind
Author: Colette McBeth
Genre: Contemporary Mystery Thriller
Received for review via BookBridgr
Summary (from Goodreads)
Six years ago, Melody Pieterson was attacked and left for dead. Only a chance encounter with a dog walker saved her life. Melody’s neighbor and close friend David Alden was found guilty of the crime and imprisoned, and the attack and David’s betrayal of her friendship left Melody a different person. She no longer trusts her own judgment, she no longer trusts her friends. In fact, she no longer really has any friends. She’s built a life behind walls and gates and security codes; she’s cloistered herself away from the world almost entirely.
And then, soon after David is released from prison, Eve Elliot is murdered in an attack almost identical to Melody’s. With the start of a new police investigation, Melody is suddenly pulled from her ordered, secluded life and back into the messy world around her. But as she learns more about Eve’s murder, Melody starts to wonder if perhaps David hadn’t betrayed her after all…if perhaps the killer is someone else entirely, someone who’s still out there, preparing to strike again.
My reading of mystery books has always been of the trashy variety – the kind with more white space on the page than words, whose plots that race towards a shock twist that makes you gasp, but doesn’t make much sense in hindsight, with archetypal, two dimensional characters.
The Life I Left Behind is the antithesis of this. Which is not to say it’s not a page turner – it rattles along at a rate once it gets going – but it’s also cleverly written, with a climactic moment that’s clever, and characters that are multifaceted and realistic.
AND ALL HORRIBLE.
Haha. It seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment to write stories with deeply flawed protagonists (Gone Girl, anyone?) The fact that all the characters (excepting Eve, who was the nicest character in the story, but unfortunately dead) are pretty repugnant isn’t a criticism as such – they were believable, and their conflicts with themselves and with each other bred the circumstances that allowed the situation in the novel to take place in an organic, realistic way. But, I do find it a bit harder to engage with characters that don’t really have redeeming features.
As a study of the lies we tell each other and ourselves, it was a fascinating exploration. And it kept me guessing too. By law of mystery novels, the killer had to be one of the characters featured, and there were really only two possibilities. I loved that both of them turned out to be complete dicks, because I was ninety percent convinced it was one person, and it was a bit of a shocker when it turned out to be the other one. McBeth walked the line with that character perfectly, and I had to keep reading to find out if it was them or not.
There were some definite horror elements to this story as well. From the opening prologue featuring a ten year old boy who discovers his mother’s dead body to the less horrific but equally terrifying thought of false imprisonment, and your whole life being ruined by a miscarriage of justice.
There was also some great character development – I liked how Eve and Melody mirrored each other, Eve everything Melody was but had allowed herself to lose. I liked how in discovering Eve and what she had been doing with her life, Melody started to find her way back to that.
But I’ll freely admit – a large part of me was thinking from very early on: Girl, you deserve almost everything you got. No one deserves to die horribly, or to be put in a coma and left for dead. But a lot of the subsequent things that happened were a result of her allowing herself to be manipulated and manipulative. Very cleverly written, and I did like the story. But I just can’t bring myself to like her.