On a rainy day in November, a mother collects her five year old son from school but tragedy strikes when the boy is killed after being struck by a car. As his distraught mother screams for help, the driver leaves the scene and the rain begins to wash away the evidence.
Devastated by the events of that day, Jenna decides to walk away from everything in her life and settles in a remote cottage on the Welsh coast. Determined to keep to herself, Jenna shuns contact with the locals but as the months go by she finds herself yearning for their friendship and even starts a budding romance with the local vet. However, just as Jenna is beginning to leave her tragic past behind, a knock at the door brings everything flooding back.
DI Ray Stevens is determined to get closure for Jacob by bringing the culprit to justice but there is precious little information to go on. As weeks turn into months with no new leads, Ray is eventually ordered to close the case but he can’t bring himself to do it and secretly continues to follow up on it with a female colleague. As the first anniversary of the boy’s death approaches, a new witness comes forward and sets into motion a devastating chain of events.
I Let You Go is the debut novel of Clare Mackintosh, a former police officer, who has based parts of this story on a real life investigation involving the death of a child in a hit and run. This book is particularly hard to review because there is a monumental twist half way through that really messes with your head and will have you questioning everything you have just read. The twist is awesome enough for me not to want to reveal it but it also limits what I can tell you about the second half of the book as it won’t really make much sense.
Much of the book follows Jenna Gray as she attempts to create a new life for herself in Wales, however the nightmares of that terrible day continue to haunt her and as time goes on, we are given enough hints of Jenna’s traumatic past to realise she has been a victim of domestic abuse. Jenna, a talented artist, was once a vibrant young woman with an active social life but years of emotional and physical abuse have made her withdraw to the point where she is incapable of trusting anyone. However, the locals in the village of Penfach are a friendly bunch and Jenna finds it harder and harder to resist their overtures. Mackintosh captures Jenna’s internal battle perfectly as she yearns to be the person she once was but can’t let go of the need to protect herself.
Despite her weaknesses, Jenna is a likeable character and Mackintosh succeeds in engaging our complete sympathy throughout, balancing Jenna’s fears with her strengths so she keeps evolving believably. The details of Jenna’s past unfold very slowly but it isn’t until after the aforementioned twist that the missing pieces are finally revealed and it makes for disturbing reading. In the second part of the book, much of Jenna’s story is told by her husband, the abuser, and the narrative is so warped, we are given a chilling insight into the way his mind works and just why he believes Jenna ‘deserved’ to be punished.
While Jenna’s narrative is told from the first person point of view in the present tense, her story is interwoven with the chapters told from the third person point of view of DI Ray Stevens as he continues to investigate Jacob’s death. The police don’t have a lot of information to go on in the first place, so we get to see the unglamorous side of police work which involves lots of research, which in this case means endless viewing of CCTV footage. Since Mackintosh is well acquainted with the internal politics of the police, we are also given an insight into how much bureaucracy Ray has to deal with on a daily basis which just adds to his frustration.
Thankfully, Ray has a deeply ingrained sense of justice, however the need to satisfy everyone in his life has him teetering on the edge. When a young female detective is assigned to his team, her eagerness to resolve Jacob’s case reminds Ray of how determined he used to be himself and his renewed motivation leads to him ignoring his boss’s orders to close the case. However, Ray’s dedication to his work is proving to be detrimental to his family life and he is in danger of losing those close to him. The inclusion of Ray’s family rounds his character out nicely, showing him to be fallible as he is quite oblivious to what’s been going on in his own home and his realisation of this is quite emotional.
While most of the writing is exemplary, I did have a few misgivings about how the investigation was conducted as it seemed to me that Ray and his team were missing a lot of obvious stuff. I’m a little embarrassed to say this since Mackintosh obviously knows a whole lot more about police work than I do, but there were just certain plot points that didn’t ring true to me and I felt Ray should’ve been able to connect the dots far quicker than he did.
The final twists were also problematic as they were just too Hollywood for me and I certainly don’t think they were needed since the book would’ve been fine without them. Having said that, I thought this was a great debut and I wouldn’t be adverse to reading more of Mackintosh’s work.