Thursday 22 April 2021

When I Was Ten by Fiona Cummins @FionaAnnCummins @panmacmillan @rosiewilsreads #WhenIWasTen #BookReview

Twenty-one years ago, Dr Richard Carter and his wife Pamela were killed in what has become the most infamous double murder of the modern age.

Their ten year-old daughter – nicknamed the Angel of Death – spent eight years in a children’s secure unit and is living quietly under an assumed name with a family of her own.

Now, on the anniversary of the trial, a documentary team has tracked down her older sister, compelling her to break two decades of silence.

Her explosive interview sparks national headlines and journalist Brinley Booth, a childhood friend of the Carter sisters, is tasked with covering the news story.

For the first time, the three women are forced to confront what really happened that night – with devastating consequences for them all. 

When I Was Ten by Fiona Cummins was published by Pan Macmillan on 15 April 2021. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

Fiona Cummins is a magnificent author, I have read and enjoyed all of her previous books. When I Was Ten was originally due to be published in August 2020, but due to the pandemic, publication was delayed. Finally, after all this time, I'm delighted to share my thoughts.

The prologue, set in 1997, sets the scene for what becomes a tension filled story that kept me gripped. I flew through this book, loathe to set it down for even a minute as the story unfolded, with twist upon twist and unexpected reveals creating shivers down my spine. 

A young girl runs through the grass during a thunderstorm ... the grown ups are dead .... she is terrified and horrified, and then lightening strikes.

The reader is then taken to 2018 where we find Catherine Allen, a wife and mother who is also terrified. The urgency of Catherine's thoughts make the heart race as we watch her stumble about, she knows she has to get away, but from what, and why?

The blurb of the book tells us that this story is about the Carter sisters. In 1997 Dr and Mrs Carter were murdered, their ten-year-old daughter was charged with killing them and spent years locked away. In 2018, their older daughter has given her first television interview. She wants to reach out to the sister that she once loved so much, and who she hasn't heard from in years. This interview will bring the Hilltop House murder case into the public spotlight again, and for Catherine, and newspaper reporter Brinley it opens up old and very painful wounds. 

Cummins creates her story using some quite beautiful prose, she deals with the darkest of issues with empathy and sensitivity, but there are some shocking scenes of terrible abuse within the pages. There is a feeling of tense anticipation that builds, page by page, and as the reader discovers what happened in Hilltop House during the years before the murder, the feelings of horror get stronger. 

Interwoven between the narrative are messages sent by an unknown person, to an unnamed character in the story, this is a clever way to expose the workings of a damaged and troubled mind and go some way to allow the reader to understand what may happen, and why. 

When I Was Ten is a meticulously written, compelling novel that drew me in from the first haunting paragraphs. The story raises questions and shines a light on how one tragedy can become owned by the press and public, and how childish adoration and loyalty can destroy whole lives. 

There's a quote from Cries Unheard by Gitta Sereny at the beginning of this novel, and it is clear that When I Was Ten has been loosely based on the Mary Bell case from the 1960s. Cries Unheard is an excellently written book that exposes the detail of Bell's life, often glossed over, as is the case in this novel too. 

This is an accomplished, brutal and moving story, and comes highly recommended by me.

Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former 
Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate 
of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. 

She lives in Essex with her family.

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