One day Grace Chalk sees her boyfriend standing at the other side of the street. Except Alex is dead. And so starts Deerleap by Sarah Walsh, a combination of love story [Grace and Alex], detective story [is Alex really alive, if so where is he?] and the nature of blame [marriage breakdown] and grief. Walsh has written an assured story, handling the emotional complexities with a gentle touch making the twists and turns even more surprising when they arrive.
When the story opens, seven years have passed since the car accident in which Grace’s father and her stepmother Polly were killed, her sister Rita seriously injured, and her boyfriend Alex disappeared. Alex’s body was never found. Rita has never talked about what happened, she is emotionally vulnerable, spiky and prone to hitting her sister. Grace’s mother still resents being deserted by her husband and Grace worries that her anger will turn into depression and suicide. At the centre of the story stands Deerleap, the remote country house where Alex grew up and where Grace visits her father as he sets up his new home with Polly. It all sounds idyllic, except seven years later, Deerleap stands empty awaiting the legal deadline when Alex can be declared legally dead and the house sold. This is the catalyst which sparks this chain of events.
The emotional vulnerability in Grace’s family made me at times question her own reporting of events, we are told the story entirely through her eyes. She is an artist, painting portraits of from her studio in Bristol. She looks into people’s faces and sees the truth. Can she find out the truth of what happened to Alex?
The Somerset countryside sounds marvellous, a stark contrast to the streets of Bristol where Grace’s troubled mother and sister live. The family ties, responsibilities and lies create a web of mystery through which you glimpse the answer. And then there is a twist at the end which I didn’t expect. This is a quiet book which really grew on me. A psychological mystery, rather than a psychological thriller, it explores the nature of grief, depression, guilt and love.
‘Deerleap’ by Sarah Walsh [UK: S Walsh] Buy at Amazon
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