Title: I Let You Go
Authors: Clare Mackintosh
Price: Rs 399
Every parent’s worst nightmare is that split-second’s inattention, which can upend a carefully-built universe. That instant when one decides that it’s safe enough to let go of a child’s hand in a deserted alley, because home is right there, across the street, porch light glowing to steer them safely to the warmth inside. And then, that soul-crushing moment when a car comes out of nowhere and all one can hear is “the squeal of wet brakes, the thud of a five-year-old body hitting the windscreen and the spin of his body before it slams on the road.”
Can you ever forgive yourself for the death of a child? It’s the question that Clare Mackintosh asks her readers in her debut thriller, I Let You Go, which is being hyped as the next big thing, in the same mould as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train. On a rain-sodden afternoon ahead of Christmas, five-year-old Jacob is the victim of a hit-and-run accident in Bristol, only the driver never stops to offer assistance. “It happened so quickly…I only let go for a second,” says Jacob’s mother when Detective Inspector Ray Stevens asks her if she had a chance to see the person behind the wheel.
In that instant, under the weight of the knowledge that she is partly to blame for his death, Jenna Gray’s life begins to unspool into slow chaos. Traumatised by her memories and living under the shadow of a fear that won’t let her open up to new beginnings, she severs all familiar ties and runs away to the Welsh coast. Would Jacob have lived had she led her life differently, she wonders? Could she have done anything to change his and her circumstances? When Stevens and his deputy shows up at her doorsteps, she is almost relieved to be taken into custody.
But the case is far from over. As they investigate, Stevens and his team are confronted by loopholes that might hold the key to the mystery: was Gray really the person behind the wheel? If she isn’t, who is she trying to protect?
Before she turned author, Mackintosh was a member of the British CID. One of the earliest memories of her career is of the investigation into the death of a nine-year-old boy in Oxford, killed by joyriders in a stolen Vauxhall Astra. No one had come forward as witness in the case and no one had ever been charged. Mackintosh had always wondered how one could live with the knowledge of what one had done and how it might have affected the child’s mother.
I Let You Go was born of that memory, the two threads of her apprehension tied together in an original narrative. It follows the precedence set by Flynn and Hawkins, moving at a breathless pace between alternate voices and mapping a world where love has gone wrong, leaving in its wake only devastation. But that’s where all similarities end. Jenna is nothing like Flynn’s sharp-witted Amy or even Hawkins’s alcoholic, whimsical protagonist, Rachel. The overarching tenor of Mackintosh’s universe is fear and Jenna is its unwitting hostage.
Mackintosh’s other neat touch is in the way she builds up the dynamics of the investigating team. Steven’s universe is riven by his irrational attraction towards the newest female inductee in his team, his wife’s simmering discontent at having to stay at home and bring up their children even though she is a trained detective, his son’s troublesome teenage and the administrative duties he finds himself burdened with when he’d rather be out investigating. It makes him human and prone to errors of judgement. He is bound by duty to bring justice to the victim but also by his need to notch up a brownie point for the next promotion.
In the end, I Let You Go is as much about the darkness that often undercuts our closest emotional interactions as it is about a twisted crime.