Review - THE LIFE I LEFT BEHIND, Colette McBeth

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

THE LIFE I LEFT BEHIND is the second novel from London based author Colette McBeth, her first being PRECIOUS THING. Both in the form of psychological thriller, part of the increasingly common "domestic noir" category, they are however standalone books.

The story here is told using a combination of viewpoints from three main characters. Melody Pieterson is a survivor, brutally attacked and left for dead, she lives in personal imprisonment, whilst her attacker has just been released from jail. The aftermath of the attack has seen her lose her confidence, her social life and her independence. Eve Elliot is also a victim, she's been violently attacked, just after she meets Pieterson's attacker, and starts working on the possibility that he's been wrongly convicted. But she lost her life in her attack and her voice is post-mortem. Finally there's DI Victoria Rutter, a constable at the time of the first attack, she's the officer who identified the CCTV evidence that lead to the jailing of David Alden.

Now obviously these sorts of viewpoints are always relying on the reader establishing some sort of connection with the characters. Because time is spent inside their heads, there must be understanding, and maybe even sympathy. Which is tricky when one of the voices is coming from somebody who is dead, and another could be perceived as overtly comfortable in the role of victim. It's a strange feeling to know that a victim, a character who has been subjected to the most awful attack, and who has every reason in the world to be scared, hesitant and damaged has the potential to be decidedly annoying as well. Mind you, it's not hard to imagine that THE LIFE I LEFT BEHIND will be one of those books that absolutely polarises readers - some will find Pieterson sympathetic and understandable, others less so.

Given that much of the story is also told in flashback, many of the plot threads feel somewhat coincidental or even convenient. Not an unreasonable feeling given the old adage about hindsight. Combine that, however, with the surprisingly quick manner in which Elliot casts doubt on the conviction of David Aldren, conveniently followed by her death, and something in Rutter's attitude about her original investigation and all in all, something doesn't feel convincing. There's just the slightest sense of unreliable narrator here somewhere, without the confirmation. None of that is helped either by the convenient character traits - the dead victim is confident, sometimes regretful but surprisingly sanguine about the whole being dead thing. Meanwhile the living victim isn't really living, and seems to be overtly passive and easily manipulated.

Just to ram that home, there's the increasing doubt about her band of supporters, friends, and in particular her fiancée. There's a fine line between supportive and controlling and we're not too far into the story before Sam's getting creepy and you have to wonder about the odd dynamic in their friendship group as well.

Needless to say, everything about Pieterson and her situation did not sit comfortably with this reader, and as a result, the whole scenario felt contrived and overblown. Other readers, those that sympathise and identify more closely with that character, are going to get a lot more from THE LIFE I LEFT BEHIND.

Year of Publication

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.

Narrated alternately by Melody and by Eve’s lingering ghost, The Life I Left Behind is a taut thriller and an intimate look at two young women bound together in ways neither of them could ever have predicted. Colette McBeth has proven once again that she is a master of suspense.

Review Review - THE LIFE I LEFT BEHIND, Colette McBeth
Karen Chisholm
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
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