This recommendation comes from Cleo, who blogs at Cleopatra Loves Books.
The Hidden Legacy by GJ Minett
Although I never ‘knew’ Maxine, all the tributes point towards her being a lover of ‘intelligent’ crime fiction and in my opinion this book, a debut novel, fits that phrase exactly. The Hidden Legacy doesn’t just have excellent plotting, it is one of those books that ask the big ‘moral’ questions wrapped up in a story that touches on some big issues.
With the action opening with a heinous crime committed in a school playground in the city of Gloucester in 1966 in one of the most ‘grab-you-by-the-throat’ scenes I’ve ever read you could be forgiven for thinking that this book is all about the action, you’d be wrong. Not that there isn’t plenty of action, but this book is one of those that will make you think, let you decide whereabouts on the line of justice do you stand? Are some of the characters actions justifiable, at least to some degree, once the entire picture has been drawn?
The Hidden Legacy’s past may begin in the sixties but all that happened then is bought to life by a solicitor’s letter hailing from Cheltenham straight into the hands of Ellen Sutherland in West Sussex. She is the beneficiary of an unknown Eudora Nash and with no way of finding out who Eudora is Ellen squeezes in a trip to Cheltenham to find out. The mystery only deepens when she is door-stepped by the wonderfully portrayed journalist, Andrew O’Halloran. Ellen pleased to find the trip hasn’t been a total waste of time, she after all in possession of a fine legacy and so returns to her home, and her best friend Kate and the two women start investigating the past. Someone must know why Eudora left her a cottage?
With the story set in the sixties and the life of the child perpetrator struggle into adult-hood with the newspaper headlines ever-ready to be reproduced every time another child commits a crime the reader is invited to question should anyone be expected to pay for the rest of his life for an act committed as a child, however appalling that act may have been? This book simultaneously looks at the role of the media in such instances, does the need to sell papers really justify the hounding of that person, forever, no matter what consequences that has on him and everyone who knows him? Worthy yet difficult questions, I think you’ll agree.
This story touches on all the good things that make for an interesting read; secrets, past tragedies, along with their consequences, and the human need to protect others. It also tackles the far bigger issue of redemption and not in a way that is a common in a debut author, G.J. Minett puts these decisions firmly in his reader’s hands, in that this book, which is expertly-plotted, peopled by fascinating and complex characters, can be read as a story with a mystery to be solved, or you can ponder on where the moral rights and wrongs really lie. How far back in time do you have to go to get to the events that led to the tale that unfolds?
Despite the big questions the author never forgets that many of us read for pure entertainment so as well as having characters who are far from being two-dimensional the story is engaging, the switching of timelines and narratives expertly handled thereby giving the reader many different viewpoints as well as a sense of place and time, all topped off with a cracking good mystery.
Ever since I read this book, I have continued to ponder some of these questions and wonder how realistic some of the answers to them really are especially when emotions are added into the mix, so I hope that Maxine would agree with me that this belongs in the genre of intelligent crime and that she too would have appreciated the fine storytelling that backs up this story, which is one to make you think.