A glowing review from Crimepieces’ guest reviewer Rachel Hall of a debut novel .
Launched in November 2015 it is hard to see what has kept this exceptionally well-written psychological thriller from gaining more critical acclaim. Subtitled ‘a dark and shocking psychological drama’, this is an intelligent, intriguing and most of all, well-constructed mystery. The accomplishment for a debut author cannot be overstated and it would seem an injustice that Graham Minett remains under the radar.
Opening with a shocking prologue from twelve year old schoolboy, John Michael Adams, as he commits a horrific attack upon two girls in a school playground in 1966, this is a story which hooks you right from the off. Readers are presented with a glimpse into the mindset of a child driven to a despicable act whom the national press soon dub “Every Parents Nightmare”.
Fast forward to 2008 and meet harassed Ellen Sutherland, newly divorced and combining a full time job with the demands of single parenting and a mother succumbing to the frailties of dementia. The arrival of a solicitors letter asking her to make urgent contact regarding the last will and testament of Eudora Jane Nash leaves her flabbergasted. The name means nothing to her and she assumes it is simply a clerical error. When the overly sincere solicitor suggests a meeting, Ellen laughs off the idea of making a six-hour round trip. That is until it is disclosed that she has been bequeathed a picturesque cottage in a Cotswolds village of significant financial worth. Remaining unconvinced she mentions the name Eudora Nash in passing to her mother and her boss, a man who is like a father to her, and can sense she has ruffled some feathers and from then on decides to delve deeper. With the accompaniment of best friend Kate making for a brilliant contrast to the staid Ellen, the pair set out to discover just what has been hidden for so many years.
From then on the reader remains with present day Ellen and interlaced between her narrative are extracts from the deceased Eudora Nash and John Michael Adams. Despite the traversing timeline, the novel intuitively flows well and readers can sense a stylistic differing between each narrator which keeps the story moving. With Ellen uncovering all of this in the present day she adds a sense of solidity to the novel. As questions arise, Minett tackles them in a timely manner yet always remains one step ahead and as each layer of intricacy is peeled back he constantly surprises his readers. It is a considerable time since I have read such an ingenious plot construction from a psychological fiction novel.
Over the intervening years the story of the John Michael Adams is disclosed and offers an insight into a minor who remains a media target for vilification, seemingly fair game for a witch hunt to uncover his whereabouts and identity upon release. The portrayal of him as a man unable to make a fresh start paints a moving portrait of a life spent running away and the shifting ground underneath him. Minett never dictates to his readers how they should interpret the wider issues which he raises through The Hidden Legacy and it is hard not to imagine how child murderers are punished by the media which never allow these things to be forgotten.
Ellen has mixed emotions about her relationship with her mother, specifically regarding her unwillingness to talk about the past, yet she is wracked with remorse as she rushes up and down the country hunting the mystery surrounding a ninety-one year old lady who she has never met whilst her ailing mother grows weaker. My overriding thought throughout the novel related to just how much a person can jeopardise in blinkered pursuit of a long held secret and the risks that this necessitates.
Whilst unputdownable is often used ad nauseam in reviews Graham Minett does not put a foot wrong in this captivating and emotionally involving story. As each layer of intricacy is uncovered he never resorts to sensationalism in his consideration of a teenage murderer or falls back on the overly twee pull on the heart-strings. This is a moving and often profound example of the psychological fiction genre and poses numerous questions leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions.
The Hidden Legacy may not be one of the heralded psychological thrillers but is deserves to be one of the most widely read and establish G.J. Minett as a striking new talent in the increasingly crowded market of psychological fiction. Outstanding.