I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh

by evseymour

I received the proof copy of ‘I Let You Go’ by Clare Mackintosh a while ago. The blurb on the back states that it’s ‘A superbly constructed, page-turning psychological thriller from a sensational new British voice.’ Call me perverse, but I’m usually put off when a book is hyped. It didn’t help that a good writer friend of mine, whose judgement I trust, jettisoned it after a couple of chapters. Undeterred, I gave it a go.

The inciting incident is gut wrenching: a five year-old boy is killed in a hit and run right before his mother’s eyes. The police, headed up by Detective Inspector Ray Stevens, fail to find the driver. The little boy’s mother flees. These are the basic shout lines of the novel, and yet it is so vastly more than this. The fiendishly clever twist, when the ‘driver’ is located, had me screeching to a halt. Another magnificent twist had my jaw dropping and I had to remind myself that ‘I Let You Go’ is a debut novel. It would be fair to say that, after the initial scene setting with the police, the story had me utterly gripped. I loved the versatile use of first person narratives. I loved the way the plot unfolded.   Characterisation was pretty damn good too.

Most writers cannibalise certain aspects of their lives, sometimes without even recognising it, but Clare Mackintosh openly admits that her novel is based on an incident that happened when she was a serving police officer. Without giving too much away, she turns the role of assumed perpetrator and victim on their respective heads and then ramps it up. The storyline here is compelling and desperately sad without resorting to sentimentality. There was a moment when I needed to stem a flow of tears. No wonder, for Clare Mackintosh knows only too well what it’s like to lose a child.

Many writers explore domestic abuse but rarely does a storyline grab hold as this one does, almost rendering Ray Stevens’ tale of the daily round redundant. This is not to say that chapters involving the police and court procedure lack authenticity. Frankly, they scream realism, yet it’s the ‘driver’s’ story that had me ripping through those pages.   As a portrait of how women become entangled with manipulative men, it doesn’t get much better. Sobering, haunting and horribly credible, ‘I Let You Go’ deserves its accolades.