Another month and, sadly, another First Monday Crime cancelled due to the continued Coronavirus crisis that we are facing. This once again means that the authors who were meant to be appearing are not able to share their books with and adoring audience, but it doesn’t stop us from celebrating those books anyway. And it gives me the perfect excuse to reshare my thoughts on the ridiculously excellent We Begin At The Endb by Chris Whitaker, who should have been one of this month’s featured authors. For those who missed my post first time around, here’s what the book is about:
About the Book
With the staggering intensity of James Lee Burke and the absorbing narrative of Jane Harper’s The Dry, We Begin at the End is a powerful novel about absolute love and the lengths we will go to keep our family safe. This is a story about good and evil and how life is lived somewhere in between.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books
‘You can’t save someone that doesn’t want to be saved . . .’
Thirty years ago, Vincent King became a killer.
Now, he’s been released from prison and is back in his hometown of Cape Haven, California. Not everyone is pleased to see him. Like Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend, and sister of the girl he killed.
Duchess Radley, Star’s thirteen-year-old daughter, is part-carer, part-protector to her younger brother, Robin – and to her deeply troubled mother. But in trying to protect Star, Duchess inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.
Murder, revenge, retribution.
How far can we run from the past when the past seems doomed to repeat itself?
(Originally posted 1st April 2020)
This book has given me sleepless nights. Not because it is gruesome or scary. Not even because I was compelled to read into the small hours to finish it. If anything I took my time, reading it over several evenings in the end because I wanted to savour it. No. This book gave me sleepless nights because when I finally did finish it my mind was so awash with all the things I wanted to say about it, all the words that weren’t going to be enough, that I spent half of the night switching my lights back on so that I could make notes as soon as something came to mind. I am not a person who makes notes. I am a wing it and see kind of reviewer. This is quite the departure for me …
This book, perhaps ironically, doesn’t begin at the end at all. Not really. It begins thirty years prior to the main story, focusing the reader on the event which is to prove to be the catalyst for all that is to come. It is a relatively unassuming opener, no quick action, no scenes to make the reader jump or unnecessarily anxious, and yet it still packs a punch, the final lines setting the tone for novel. It is a short but effective chapter which tells you all you need to know about the tone of the book, the pace, and that gives you just the hint of all you are about to experience.
This is, when all is said and done, a murder mystery. One of the key characters is killed, the murderer seemingly apparent, but the circumstances clouded by all that has gone one before. In reality, whilst the investigators truly believe they have their man, a slam dunk case with a defendant who will neither confess to the deed, nor defend himself against the charge, as a reader you know that it is not as simple as it appears, a conviction held by town Sheriff , Walk, also best friend of the key suspect, Vincent King.
But this book is so much more than just a murder investigation. It is a brilliant portrayal of life in a small American town. Of the residents who make up the community of Cape Haven and how the years have meant things staying the same for some and causing immeasurable damage to others. For a very English guy from Hertfordshire, Chris Whitaker has an amazing ability to create a truly authentic American voice, capturing the very essence of that style which put me very much in mind of authors such as John Hart. A kind of melancholic resignation about what is happening. His ability to put you in the heart of the action, to create such a sense of place, is perfect and as a reader it makes you feel you are there, alongside Walk as he tries his damnedest to get to the truth.
If you are looking for a fast action murder mystery, this is absolutely not the book for you. That is not where this particular author excels. What you can expect when you pick this book up is a novel full of such deep emotion and pain that it seeps from every page. And, as I have come to expect from Mr Whitaker, he not only captures the voice, the sense of place, perfectly, he creates characters who are authentic. From Walk, to Star Radley, a young mother so broken by her past that it has devastating consequences for her present, to the neighbours who range from the nosy parker to the former jock to the creepy and dangerous landlord – you have them all. Skin crawling to sympathetic, struggling in many different ways, both mentally and physically.
Now in every Chris Whitaker novel you get that one character who steals your heart. In We Begin At The End, that honour falls fairly and squarely at the feet of ‘The Outlaw’ Duchess Day Radley. Barely a teenager, she has more responsibility than any child should, acting as caregiver for her younger brother Robin, while also looking out for her mother, Star. Duchess has a tenacity and level of bravado that is way beyond her years, a spiky nature that is driven by circumstance. A defence mechanism, tinged with a cynicism that is sad to see in one so young. At times it is easy to forget that she is still only a child, making those moments when you remember all the more poignant. Duchess has been faced with a childhood far darker than she deserves, and with more disappointment than any child should have to go through. Her actions and reactions are understandable, gutsy and believable, able to make you smile and weep simultaneously. She is tough to a point of almost perfect isolation, but those moments when she lets someone else in, when she forgets herself and acts as any child should, are heartwarming and emotional.
Walk is the other central character in the novel. A very staid man, he prefers the status quo trying to stave off the inevitable change that is all around him, affecting him on a far more personal level than he is willing to admit. Certain of his friend’s innocence, he guides the reader between past and present, investigating a case that the state believes is closed and looking out for Star, Duchess and Robin in a way that is totally endearing and believable. You can feel the regret that emanates from him, the blame he takes for how events pan out, making his need to set things right completely understandable. He is someone that I was happy to go on the journey with, whose dedication and determination was both tragic and commendable.
This is a book about secrets and lies. About the lengths that people will go to to protect those that they love – about the ultimate sacrifices that they are willing to make for one another. About the unassailable bond between friends, family and lovers that spans decades and shapes a lifetime of hurt. Of how one single decision can change everything. Whilst I may have guessed in part how the story was going to play out, I still wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact I felt when the truth was finally revealed. It is an ending that is both full of sorrow and yet tinged with hope for the future, this is a very classy piece of fiction, with a stunning narrative packed with vivid description, that I am certain is going to be a huge success.
And no – I haven’t even begun to do this book justice and, no, I haven’t said half of the things I really needed or wanted to say. But, yes. I’m giving it one of these …
About the Author
Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city.
His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.
Author Links: Twitter
So there you have it. You may not be able to see Mr Whitaker in person but that shouldn’t stop you from buying the book. I’ve even included handy buying links under the blurb. ⬆️ What are you waiting for?