Within her native Germany Charlotte Link has built a strong reputation as a writer of psychological crime fiction. A concerted effort to break into the English-speaking market got underway in 2012 with the translation of The Other Child, a novel in which the errors of one generation have repercussions that reverberate through later generations.
The setting is the remote, dilapidated Beckett’s farm outside the seaside town of Scarborough in Yorkshire. It’s inhabited by the lonely, spinsterish Gwen and her taciturn father Chad. Gwen it seems is about to find happiness, though quite why a dishy language teacher wants to marry this ungainly woman with a penchant for shapeless garments, is beyond the understanding of everyone who knows her. Fiona Swales, an old family friend with a particularly sharp tongue, thinks she knows the answer: the bridegroom is really just after the farm. Shortly after she disrupts the engagement party with her accusation, Fiona is found battered to death at the foot of a cliff.
Enter Valerie Almond, an ambitious detective keen to prove she deserves promotion. Her hopes of finding a quick resolution are thwarted because there’s more to this crime than at first appears. To solve the crime, Almond has to delve into the past and uncover a secret that’s been hidden for more than half a century.
The back story, and the nature of the secret, is revealed in a series of emails written by Fiona to Chad. As an eleven year old during World War 1, Fiona was evacuated from London to the Beckett’s farm. Tagging along with her is ‘the other child’, a traumatised orphan whose existence is overlooked by the authorities. But Chad’s mother takes him under her wing. loving him and protecting him as if he were her own. Years later something happens to the boy for which Fiona now wants to atone. The two strands of the story are told in alternating episodes although the supposed connections between them don’t become apparent until close to the end.
The ending is only one of the issues I had with this book.
While the setting was very credible and the atmosphere of 1940s London was evocative, the characters were so wooden it was hard to summon up enthusiasm or interest for any of them. Far from deserving promotion, Ms Link’s woman detective was so inept only immediate demotion to the ranks would seem appropriate. The identity of the murderer was so ridiculously easy to spot that Morse and Rebus would have had the culprit in the clink and be on their third round at the bar before Ms Almond had even formed her first question.
If The Other Child didn’t well as a crime novel, it was equally as problematic as a story about emotional scars and feelings of guilt and remorse, of loss and regret. We never enjoyed any access to the inner thoughts of the murderer so the motivation they gave for their crime lacked impact. And while Fiona’s feelings of guilt about the past were evident, the fact that these were revealed in emails to a person who already knew her story, was yet another example of how many aspects of this book were so implausible it was hard to take the novel seriously.
The Other Child is published by Pegasus Books. My copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley.