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Don't Say a Word

A happy child. A loving mother. A family built on a lie.

Every parent knows the world can be scary. Lawyer Jen Sutton knows it better than most. And she’ll go to any length to protect her son from what – and who – lies outside their front door.

Some might say she’s being over-protective. But isn’t it a mother’s duty to protect her child from harm?

Jen has kept her secrets safe. Until the postcard arrives, signed by the one person she hoped would never catch up with her… and her new case begins to feel a little too close to home.

One thing is clear: Jen has been found. 

Now, she faces a choice. Run, and lose everything? Or fight – and risk her son discovering the truth.

How far would you go to protect your son?

This novel is truly psychologically chilling.

A L Bird grabbed me from the beginning - not just with the suggestion of danger to her son and the numerous clues and hints that there was something darker hiding between the pages that I needed to read on and uncover, but with her writing. Jen's narrative, told in first person, is jumpy, nervous, full of anxiety and panic. The most effective thing about this book is Jen's voice and the most effective thing in this novel is how convincing her fears, anxieties and constant state of high alert remain and dominate the pages. You cannot help but read this book without your heart leaping to your mouth and without holding your hand to your chest to regulate your own breathing. Jen's character is frightened, disturbed, fearful and desperate to keep her son safe. All of this is conveyed with palpable reality to the reader and the constant flip between always thinking the worst, and then the relief that this time there is no threat, is incredibly well handled and incredibly effective.

Jen is hiding from several characters from her past. Even though the actual details about what these people did to Jen and why she has to run are not revealed until much later, the reader quickly puts a few clues together and begins to build enough of a picture to understand what might have happened to Jen. This is of course made more explicit when she is presented with a case at work which deals with a woman facing a prison sentence for drugs and prostitution which appears to provoke an emotive response from Jen and a determination to 'save' this woman that goes beyond the call of duty.

It also puts her in danger and threatens to destroy the "life" she is working so hard to create for herself and her son.

The relationship between Jen and her ten year old son, Josh, is also very well captured. Jen is a devoted parent. Josh comes first, every single time. He is all that matters to Jen and they clearly have a very strong bond. Josh is also convincingly portrayed and he treads a good line as he sits on the cusp of still being young enough to indulge his mother's over protectiveness as well as beginning to need some answers. I liked how easy and close their relationship was and I think Bird's dialogue and interaction between Josh and Jen reflects a mother and son who have grown up without the help, support and friendship that most families develop within their local communities. It is only Jen and Josh - and this intensity, and Jen's fear of letting anyone else into their lives, is presented in a way which the reader understands and feels sympathy.

And despite all this back story that constantly hounds Jen, she is primarily a parent with a ten year old who also works. Her juggle between trying to be the best mum, remember everything for the school run, manage the household and also appear professional, committed and focused at work are well captured too. I think what I liked about Bird's prose was that it leapt off the page. It was so easy to be with Jen all the time and so easy to feel her rushing around, juggling everything, trying to stay focussed and constantly checking her watch, her phone, her shoulder that I was hooked and found that I could not put the book down.

The other thing that I loved about Don't Say A Word was the number of cliffhanger moments. Wow, Bird is relentless! There are so many brilliant, jaw dropping moments and there are so many scenes when you think the worst has happened, when you literally forget to breathe, when you are falling off the edge of your seat, when you can barely look that actually you almost miss the real threat and the real danger that is creeping up on Jen. So distracted is she too with seeing the worst every time the doorbell rings, every time she's held up a traffic light, every time someone asks her a tricky question, that she finds herself suddenly caught up in a much more life threatening situation and about to lose everything that she has fought so hard to keep.

I did wonder how reliable Jen was as a narrator and I did begin to suspect a few of the other characters as the novel plunged into the last third but I don't think this is a novel about guessing the twists. Yes, Bird can deliver them, yes there are several, yes I didn't see them all, yes she kept me guessing until the final pages and yes the twist pack a punch, but ultimately this is a novel about a mother, domestic abuse, drugs, the legal system and the agencies that aim to protect the vulnerable. This is a novel about a mother who has a secret past, a past that she is trying to escape and a past which threatens to catch up with her and force her to confront what really happened and what she is really running away from.

This is a fast paced novel. Jen's breathless narrative, her honest, raw voice is captivating and the dialogue between the characters spurs the action on as well as helping to develop three dimensional characters who feel real, authentic and help to reveal more about Jen as well as create more suspense, suspicion and tension in the plot. I liked the short chapters, the short sentences, the energy and the emotion that Bird creates.

I liked it all.

A L Bird's first novel The Good Mother  made a huge impression on me and I was really excited to receive a proof copy of Don't Say A Word from the publishers. I was expecting a roller coaster of a ride with a few surprises and shocking twists along the way and that is exactly what I got. I was gripped by Don't Say A Word and Jen is a character who will stay with me for a long time. I will reread this book and I will be recommending it - to everyone!

If you want a compelling, realistic, highly believable, gritty, gripping read, then Don't Say A Word is the novel for you!

Don't Say a Word is published by HQ Digital on 30th June 2017

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk


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