Clare Mackintosh’s debut thriller I Let You Go has been on my TBR for several months, but I finally dove in. I know February is the month for romance, and it’s also black history month, but a thriller is always a nice palate cleanser for me between books I feel more obligated to read. This one, though, turned out completely different than I expected.
About the book: one rainy evening, a five year-old child is walking home with his mother when an erratic driver comes out of nowhere and ends his life. The police have no leads. The car and its driver are nowhere to be found. The boy’s mother moves away to escape her memories and the lack of answers behind the crime. But the trouble won’t end for our main characters until the case is closed–and some of them may be in more danger than they think.
“I grip the edge of the table with both hands, anchoring myself in the present as the past threatens to take over. I can hear the screech of brakes, smell the acrid stench of burning rubber on wet tarmac. When Jacob hit the windshield, for an instant he was just inches away from me. I could have reached out and touched his face through the glass. But he twisted from me into the air and slammed onto the road.”
This one starts slow. From all the reviews I’d read/heard, I had the impression that this book was a thriller with great plot twists. I wasn’t really invested in any of the characters or their situations for close to 150 pages, though. I wanted to know who had committed the crime from the prologue and why, but there seemed to be no clues. I couldn’t quite bring myself to care about the main detective on the case who is having trouble with his marriage or the woman who is so traumatized by the child’s death that she moves to a secluded cottage near Penfach and takes up photography to pay her rent. It isn’t until the first plot twist arrives around page 150 that the story becomes real intriguing.
I wish I could talk about the element of this story I loved most, because there’s something so beautiful about literature that combines a great plot with masterful use of the writing craft. And yet, to explain why that slow bit in the beginning became my favorite part of the book would be to spoil perhaps the best plot twist this book has to offer. I was on the lookout for clues in those slow, early chapters, and I still missed entirely the great move Mackintosh makes with her writing. It takes a remarkable author to pull off such an elaborate twist–for the truth to remain hidden until a specific moment of the story, and then for the truth to seem so obvious and apparent once the curtain is lifted and the key detail emerges.
Those first 150 pages bored me. But as soon as I got through them, I wanted to turn around and read them straight through all over again.
” ‘What’s going on?’ I ask him. ‘God knows, love, but it’s always the same. Up and down like a bleedin’ yo-yo.’ “
Part two (of two) feels like a whole different story after that first big reveal. Part one is sad. Part two is scary.
In the first section, we have alternating chapters in two first-person perspectives. Although there are important details gleaned from the detective’s point of view, and he helps ground the narration through that first crazy plot twist, I never cared for him much. I would’ve been happy with a lot fewer details about his difficult son and his unhappy wife and his apparent unwillingness to to change anything in his life in any sort of helpful way for them. All those background details seemed unnecessary to the main portion of the story that truly interested me, and yet there were times when the story benefited from his perspective, so I couldn’t begrudge his presence entirely.
When we hit part two, another layer is added. The reader is given a third perspective, a character who uses the second-person narration style to address his part of the story to one of our other main characters. This guy is charming at first, and then, oh, so creepy. He provides the missing pieces that our other main characters either a) don’t know, or b) won’t admit. This guy holds nothing back. His awfulness (hidden behind charm at first) is extremely compelling, and obliterates any lingering sense of boredom from the first part. Every bad character trait I could possibly imagine this guy exhibiting showed up on subsequent pages. As soon as I thought “Oh no, what if he does this?” he went and did just that. There were times I wish Mackintosh had drawn a line with this character–he becomes so completely evil that he almost ceases to feel human. But the reader still has alternating chapters in the woman’s and the detective’s perspectives to keep him/her on track and the story from seeming too impossibly far-fetched.
This story is dark. Its characters are sad or horrible or down-on-their-luck, or, at times, just plain blind. A couple moments toward the end seem obvious (who sends the victim home before capturing the dangerous criminal who poses a giant threat?) or easy (after Mrs. Peterson spends so long keeping secrets, she spills the whole truth at the first sign that an outsider has an inkling of what’s been going on), the expert layout and the continuous plot twists keep the story unpredictable. Nothing goes quite how the reader thinks is should. Safety is always elusive.
“I hesitate. How can I explain that bad things happen around me? I would love to have something to look after again, but at the same time it terrifies me.”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I liked the characters. I liked the plot. I loved the way the story was laid out. I wish I could talk more about how answers are concealed or revealed through the POVs featured in I Let You Go, but the plot and its construction are inseparable here and this is definitely a story best to begin without knowing much about it. This is one of my favorite thrillers since my first experience with Gone Girl four years ago, and I will definitely be picking up Mackintosh’s newer release, I See You.
- For fast-paced thriller action and crazy plot twists, there’s nothing like Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. Although this one’s science fiction, I would definitely still call it a psychological thriller and it’s probably my current favorite thriller of all time.
- Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is another mysterious England-based crime novel. This one is for readers who like close looks at all the characters’ lives, as in the first part of I Let You Go, and especially the detectives’ perspectives. This crime is depicted almost entirely through the police investigation, but it’s also an exploration of character and tragedy in the same way that I Let You Go explores those aspects.
Coming up Next: I’ve just finished reading City of Glass by Cassandra Clare, the third book in her Mortal Instruments series. This is the last book in the Mortal Instruments series that I’ve read previously, so I still have some interesting looking-back thoughts to compare, and then I’ll be charting new territory (at least for me) as I continue with the fourth book next month. Stay tuned for more thoughts on Clary, Simon, Jace, and the Lightwoods, and their battles between good and evil in the Shadowhunter world.
What’s a book that has surprised you this year?
The Literary Elephant