I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

The inside cover of Clare Mackintosh's I Let You Go is full of endorsements from other writers of thrillers and women's fiction, praising it as a gripping and emotionally intense debut. At the beginning of the book, I feared it wouldn't live up to that level of praise, but the more I read, the more engaged I became with the plot and the characters.

The book opens with the death of a small child, Jacob, in a hit-and-run accident, after which the main character Jenna - traumatised to breaking point - tries to make a new, solitary life for herself in an isolated cottage on the coast of South Wales, taking with her nothing but a few clothes and a small box of items that remind her of her deceased son. Abandoning her former career as a relatively successful sculptor, she begins to sell photographs and greetings cards featuring images from the nearby Penfach beach.

With the help of Bethan, who runs the local campsite, and gruff farmer Iestyn, from whom she rents a tiny, dilapidated cottage, Jenna seems to be edging towards some sort of recovery, and is even on the verge of forming a relationship with the local vet. But one day, a knock at the door reveals that the worst moments of Jenna's past are about to catch up with her.

Interspersed with Jenna's story are some elements of police procedural crime fiction, as the local CID back in Bristol continue to investigate the hit-and-run case; we also learn something of the home life of DI Ray Stevens, who is juggling the investigation with domestic problems as his son struggles to settle at secondary school and his wife, a former police officer herself, becomes increasingly dissatisfied with his long absences from the family home.

It's fair to say that I found the police investigation a little less engaging than Jenna's story, but equally, I do think that Mackintosh was right to include it: the emotional intensity of Jenna's chapters, which are narrated in the first person, could have become a little overwrought without the brisk, pacey practicalities of the police station in between. Clare Mackintosh is, apparently, a former police officer herself, and the police sections feel authentic and natural as a result.

It's hard to review this book in a great deal of detail simply because there is, at around the halfway point, a hell of a twist. I have an irritating tendency to guess twists (although I never actively try to do so) but I didn't see this one coming. It's a mark of the author's skill that she has structured the novel in such a way that makes it almost impossible to work out in advance what the mid-point revelation will be.

The subject matter of this book will make it tough to read for some people - the death of a child is not the only painful experience relived by Jenna, and there are some chapters from the point of view of another individual which a form a character portrait so perceptive, and uncomfortably realistic, that they are almost sickening. However, this is not a criticism on my part; it's obvious that Mackintosh has a very astute understanding of the psychology at play in certain types of people, and she uses this to chilling effect.

In terms of style, the author's prose flows well throughout. Characters are vivid without being over-described, and the landscape and atmosphere of Penfach are rendered beautifully. I sometimes find that this genre - which currently seems to be more popular than ever - can suffer from clich├ęd phrases and lazy characterisation, but there is none of that here.

If you're keen on engrossing, compelling psychological thrillers in which ordinary domestic situations become fraught with tension and danger, this is definitely a book for you. Just make sure you start reading it when you have plenty of time on your hands, because you won't want to put it down.