A Double Life by Flynn Berry

The Blurb On The Back:

Claire’s father is a privileged man: handsome, brilliant, the product of an aristocratic lineage and an expensive education, surrounded by a group of devoted friends who would do anything for him.

But when he becomes the prime suspect in a horrific attack on Claire’s mother, a scandal erupts.  Claire’s father disappears overnight, his car abandoned, blood on the front seat.

Thirty years after that hellish night, Claire is obsessed with uncovering the truth, and she knows that the answer lies with the same friends who all those years before had answered the call to protect one of their own.

Because they know where Claire’s father is.

They helped him escape.

And it’s time their pristine lives met her fury.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Claire works as a GP in north London.  Her younger brother, Robbie, is a freelance claims assessor in the insurance industry.  But “Claire” and “Robbie” aren’t their real names.  They had to change their names when they were children because in 1991 their father, Colin Spenser (an aristocrat who led a privileged life starting with Eton and moving onto Oxford) is accused of having murdered their nanny, Emma, and attempting to kill their mother, Faye, before disappearing, leaving his car abandoned near a small port town with blood on the front seat. The affair was a national scandal and Spenser has been missing ever since but there are plenty who think that he was innocent and that Faye either lied about him attacking her or was otherwise too deranged and damaged to be a reliable witness.

Claire has never been able to move past that night and has told very few people about her real identity.  She has obsessively tracked the internet forums where the case is still discussed and worked to try and track down her father so she can get the definitive answers she so desperately needs.  She thinks the answers lie with his friends, James and his barrister wife Rose and vineyard owner Sam – they helped him that night, she’s sure of it.  She just has to find a way to get to them, to make them tell her what she needs to know. And then James and Rose’s daughter Alice returns to London from her life in California, and Claire suddenly sees a way in …

Flynn Berry’s literary psychological thriller is a shallow affair that’s inspired by the Lord Lucan affair but while I believed in Claire’s obsession with knowing the truth, she never really engages with other characters sufficiently enough to make her seem rounded and her “investigation” is driven by chance and happenstance until an abrupt ending that I found very unsatisfying.

Claire is really the only character who gets any development in the book and I did believe in Berry’s portrayal of her being unable to move on from that single, horrific night and needing to get answers from the father who suddenly betrayed and abandoned her.  However, while there are good reasons for her hiding her identity from all but a select group of people, we never really see her interact with those who know what happened – especially Nell, supposedly a friend from her teenage years but who is little more than a sketch but also her brother Robbie, who’s addiction to Tramadol she suspects to be his own way of coping with the betrayal and grief and whose conversations are limited to her trying to persuade him to go to rehab.  I had wished that there would be more development through the relationship she develops with Alice, but Alice remains as little more than a plot point – there to get Claire access and leverage to her parents (who equally lack depth and who have foibles that exist apparently solely so that they can be exploited).

I thought that Berry did well at showing how Claire’s beliefs are coloured by her childhood perceptions of her mother and father and how, because of what happened to them, she is forced to fill in the blanks from what she can find on-line.  However, this comes at the expense of her trying to look for friends of her mother (because surely she had some who stood by her during the inquest – they couldn’t all have been on her father’s side) and it means that everything is presented as supposition or guesswork, which I ultimately found a little frustrating.  That feeling of frustration is heightened at the end of the book because although Claire gets an answer to a couple of her questions, she doesn’t get a response to everything and I had to say that I was left thoroughly unconvinced by a final confrontation.  Equally unconvincing is the way her investigation proceeds on the basis that people still keep credit card and other records for her to leaf through as she needs to, which just seemed incredible convenient.

Ultimately, although I did keep turning the pages, I was never really engaged by this novel and nor did I really care about Claire or her brother.  It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s just that for something that has an interesting premise (especially as the Lord Lucan case continues to have a hold over people), Berry hasn’t produced something that gives either insight or a gripping narrative.

A DOUBLE LIFE was released in the United Kingdom on 9thAugust 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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