Friday, March 25, 2016

What She Left by T.R. Richmond

What She Left by T.R. Richmond
Release Date - January 12, 2016
Publisher Website - Simon and Schuster (Penguin Random House in Canada)
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 336 pages
My Rating - 3.5/5
**received from publisher for an honest review**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
In this brilliantly modern novel of love, obsession, and revenge, a professor pieces together the life and mysterious death of a former student—and unearths a shocking revelation about her final days.

On a snowy February morning, the body of twenty-five-year-old journalist Alice Salmon washes up on a riverbank south of London. The sudden, shocking death of this beloved local girl becomes a media sensation, and those who knew her struggle to understand what happened to lively, smart, and savvy Alice Salmon. Was it suicide? A tragic accident? Or…murder?

Professor Jeremy Cooke, known around campus as Old Cookie, is an anthropologist nearing the end of his unremarkable academic career. Alice is his former student, and the object of his unhealthy obsession. After her death, he embarks on a final project—a book documenting Alice’s life through the digital and paper trails that survive her: her diaries, letters, Facebook posts, Tweets, and text messages. He collects news articles by and about her; he transcribes old voicemails; he interviews her friends, family, and boyfriends.

Bit by bit, the real Alice—a complicated and vulnerable young woman—springs fully formed from the pages of Cookie’s book…along with a labyrinth of misunderstandings, lies, and secrets that cast suspicion on everyone in her circle—including Jeremy himself.
In the internet age we've become accustomed to posting so much of our lives online. We update Facebook and Twitter routinely and our inbox is a record of plenty of our correspondence. I've never given much thought to what this electronic paper trial means when we die. What She Left looks at how you could piece together a picture of who someone was using their electronic footprint and shows just how much of us is left behind. This novel's unique format of using blog posts, text messages, Twitter updates and regular letters, ensures a captivating and quick read.

The biggest element that stands out in this story is how much we learn about these characters. Typically in mysteries we learn only what it needed for the story. Characterization is secondary to plot and the big twist pay off for this genre. T.R. Richmond, however, laces character traits into every post, update, and letter. Their voice becomes distinct and that makes us feel that we've come to know them. They become the heart of this story. Alice, in particular, is brought to life. She is someone you come to care about and that makes this character's death resonate a little deeper.

Unreliable narrators are common in mystery novels. It has become almost expected in mystery novels at this point. The format is used as the unreliable narrator in this case. You're always second guessing how truthful people are being because of the medium used. People are not always truthful online, and their actions are not there to compare with the words they are using. It may not be unique to use diary entries and things in novels, but it felt unique for an entire novel to be written this way. The events are told through the person writing and that limits the scope as well, adding another layer of unreliability. We're given the events as they remember them, not necessarily as they truly happened.

There are plenty of plausible theories of what happened that fateful night discussed and examined during this novel. Murder, accident, suicide are just some of the avenues explored. The truth, when revealed, is something I didn't consider, but is done in a really clever and plausible way. It makes sense in the end with everything else we know. While I did feel the pacing suffered a little, and that the beginning is the stronger half, the ending itself is satisfying.

A surprisingly heartfelt, and quiet mystery that weaves together in a unique format. T.R. Richmond keeps the reader on their toes as plenty of plausible answers to the mystery of what happened to Alice are offered and investigated. Those who are looking for a different type of mystery novel will want to pick this one up.

1 comment:

  1. I do wonder whether the ending is actually what did happen. Whether the author's final trick is that the (rather too neat and out of the blue) solution was a cover - told to us by one of the myriad narrators - to hide that narrator's own role in Alice's death. Have a read of the second Police Interview with Jessica (the person who saw Alice climb onto the weir) and to Jeremy's reaction to Larry's book success. Or should I take things at Face Value?


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