Crime Fiction


If You Knew Her

I give this brilliant debut novel by Emily Elgar 5-Stars! It's a very subtle look at obsession and it's a book that's stayed with me.
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“At every moment of our lives, we all have one foot in a fairy tale and the other in the abyss." Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes. (Quote from the dedication page.)

I picked up this book a few weeks ago in the library. I was looking for something relating to the letter ‘P’ - this month’s theme. What better than a book which poses the question: ‘The Perfect Life or the Perfect Lie?’.

If You Knew Her is Emily Elgar’s debut novel. Originally from the Cotswolds, Emily studied at Edinburgh University and then spent a few happy years working as a travel writer in Southern Africa and as Events Coordinator for an international NGO in New York and Istanbul. She has now returned to London where she lives and works as a support worker for a national charity supporting vulnerable women.

The write-up on the back sounded interesting and just up my street:
“A woman in a coma. The man who could save her life - if only he could speak.
Cassie had it all – the fairy-tale wedding, the stunning home, the perfect husband. But when she arrives on the intensive care ward
at the St Catherine’s hospital in a coma it soon becomes clear that she has a secret, a secret that changes everything.
Alice, the chief nurse on the ward, feels a connection with Cassie and begins to wonder if things are not what they appear.
Frank, another patient, can hear and see everything around him but cannot communicate. He understands that Cassie’s life is in danger
and only he holds the truth, which no one can know and he cannot tell.”

This an intriguing story. Cassie’s life up until the hit-and-run, which put her in the coma, is written as a series of flashbacks, where we slowly get to understand that the so-called fairy-tale wedding, stunning home and perfect husband are in fact not quite as perfect and stunning as they appear. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark, as the Bard says in a completely different context.

Alice, the nurse, cares deeply for her patients. She talks to them as if they were able to hear her, unaware that Frank can in fact do just that. She looks after them with compassion and as she observes Cassie and her visitors and their behaviour, she sees things that don’t make sense – and starts to wonder, to the extent that she begins to investigate Cassie’s past life and family, thereby putting her job at risk and her life on the line.

Frank is in a persistent vegetative state - or so it seems. In fact, he is so unresponsive that there is talk of moving him out of the intensive care unit unto a long-term ward. But Frank not only sees (when his eyes are open) and hears what goes on around the next bed, he is as sharp as a pin and understands. And then one day Frank manages to force his unresponsive body to move purposefully. And in doing that he – the totally helpless man - comes to the notice of the would-be killer.

I shall not say any more about the plot. I don’t want to spoil the ending.

I really liked this book. I came to care very much about Frank and Alice, who both, in their ways had a tragic past. I found the plot quite unusual. Of the three protagonists Frank and Alice were the most well-rounded characters and the ones which were best fleshed out. Cassie was more of an enigma. She is very young, not certain that what she has is what she really wants, and increasingly afraid of the situation she finds herself in. I think the author has, with great skill, created an immature girl who is quite shallow and egoistical, and who pays the price for her – possibly quite innocent - actions.

Without giving away the ending – which I shall NOT do – I find it difficult to convey just how much this book has stayed with me. Not a conventional thriller or book of crime fiction, more of a study of how people act and react to situations around them, and a very subtle look at obsession. It was both sad and uplifting.

Do try it. In my view it is worth it.

Oundle Library’s Crime Fiction Book Group meets again on 17 May at 2.30pm. And if you’d like to join us, you’d be very welcome. We don’t have a set reading list – just a free-ranging discussion about the books we’ve read and enjoyed. Why not come along?