Monday 20 April 2015

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst

They told her she killed her son. She served her time. But what if they lied?
I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don't you?
My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address and a chance to rebuild my tattered life.
This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he's dead?
If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst is published by Headline on 23 April 2015 and is the author's debut novel.

Over the past few years there has been a steady rise in the amount of psychological thrillers written by female authors. It's taken a while, but I'm delighted about it and I think Jenny Blackhurst is a worthy entry to this stable of fine authors.

Susan Webster killed her three month old son. Smothered him with a cushion whilst she was in the midst of puerperal psychosis; a severe form of mental illness, brought on by childbirth. Susan can't remember anything about the day that Dylan died, she struggles to believe that she actually did it. She's been a patient at Oakdale, a psychiatric unit for three years and she has to depend on what the doctors tell her.

Susan is no more, she has served her time and become Emma Cartwright. Emma is free, she's making a new life for herself in a small Shropshire town. Emma will have to live with what she did to Dylan for the rest of her life.

When letters and parcels arrive, addressed to Susan, the terror and the doubts begin. Nobody should know who Emma is, only the authorities and her best friend Cassie should have any idea that she was Susan, and what she did. How can anyone send her a photo of a toddler, and claim that it is Dylan? Susan begins to think that she has never recovered, that she is still suffering from mental illness. It's only when she meets Nick, a journalist, that she begins to suspect that maybe, just maybe, Dylan didn't die. Maybe she didn't kill her baby. Maybe he is still alive .....

My goodness, I swore quite a lot whilst reading How I Lost You. It's one of those stories that you think you've sussed out, then bang ..... the author flings another couple of twists at you and you are left open-mouthed in shock!

Tense and clever and absolutely exhausting; How I Lost You is an incredibly good read. Jenny Blackhurst has created a plot that is scintillating and tense. Susan is not the strongest of characters, she can appear weak and gullible, often impetuous and difficult to warm to, but she is ably supported by a cast that are very well created, not least Cassie. Cassie is a bit of an enigma, she's strong and sassy and although Susan doesn't always recognise it, she's loyal and a real mate. Male lead Nick is handsome, smooth and fairly mysterious.

Nestled in among Susan's story are flashbacks narrated mainly by a guy called Jack. Jack is a complete and utter bastard, an evil manipulator who seems to have no conscience. This short excerpts from the past are quite mystifying at first - who are these boys? It's clear that this group of young men are linked to Susan's story, but the author very cleverly keeps the reader on their toes, only releasing the odd name every now and again. This extra dimension to the story adds even more tension and intrigue, especially as the reader slowly makes the connection between the then and the now.

There are some bad bad people in How I Lost You, and they do some bad bad things and even though I think I suspected almost every character at least once during this book, I didn't work it out at all. The conclusion races up and knocks you sideways, it's fast and it's daring and it's really very very good.

How I Lost You is not perfect, but it's very close.  I do think that the author has tried to fit every single idea she's ever had into one story, I've read quite a few debut novels where the author does this. There were a couple of very tiny niggles that I had and I'd loved to have known more about Cassie, but these really are just tiny little things. I would certainly recommend How I Lost You and really do look forward to reading more from Jenny Blackhurst.

My received my copy of How I Lost You through the Bookbridgr programme.

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children.

Growing up she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels - writing her own seemed like natural progression. 

Inspired by the emotions she felt around her own son's birth, How I Lost You is Jenny's thrilling debut crime novel.

Follow her on Twitter @JennyBlackhurst

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