This story is partly set in a Cornwall village in 1956 where fifteen year old Betty lives with her troubled mother whose bouts of alcoholism and depression often leave Betty in charge of running the small guest house in which they lodge. Following the discovery of several murdered young girls, the sleepy village is suddenly overrun with journalists and police as the hunt for the “Cornish Cleaver” begins. Betty becomes infatuated with the reclusive and solemn journalist John Gallagher who initially seems only to befriend Betty in order to gain access to local gossip and information. Their meetings then become more illicit and secretive and Betty finds herself falling in love with this older, reserved man about whom she actually knows very little and whose reticent manner and mysterious comings and goings could even place him under suspicion as the murderer as more victims are discovered. The plot is then jumps to thirty years later where Mary, haunted by events she witnessed in her past, travels to a nursing home to make a visit that she thinks will give her a final chance to confront her deep secret and release her from the burden she has carried all this time. This timely introduction of a second narrative adds yet more intrigue and suspense, ensuring that this story is much more than the straight forward murder mystery it first appeared. The reader has been tricked into thinking that the story will revolve around solving a local crime and having even felt confident that they know who is responsible, they now find their assumptions challenged. I found the first half of the book a little slow and predictable, but the second half of the novel increases in pace, tension and emotional depth. I was forced to rethink everything I thought I knew about all the characters. Several plot lines are spun to create a more complex story which is as much about coming of age, families, love, death, revenge and grief as the threat of having a serial killer on the loose. The race to the end of the book is dramatic and compulsive, full of unforeseen twists and revelations. Powell’s characterisation of Betty’s emotional journey and subsequent mental anguish is well captured and convincing. It is heartfelt, intensely sad and her traumatic descent is vivid and powerful. Gallagher is an equally clever creation. It would be wrong to say anymore but his presence as deeply suspicious, untrustworthy and unsuitable is a great way to keep reminding the reader that there is a killer amongst the villagers. The local male characters, also all potential killers, are well drawn and the use of the 1950’s backdrop is used effectively to establish atmosphere and tension. I definitely became more involved in the story as it continued. I had to rethink all my initial judgements about the characters and could not predict the exciting ending. I found that my feelings towards Betty changed as she is not always that likeable but her journey is affecting. There are some very poignant and powerful passages within this novel and Powell clearly has a skill for weaving several narratives together. I did find the narrative set in 1956 more engaging and evocative than the present day exerts but overall it’s a very satisfying read and a confident debut.
I would recommend "The Unforgotten" and would rate it a high 3/5 stars. Thank you very much to NetGalley for providing me with this advanced copy in return for a fair and independent review.