Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Book Review: The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

It ain't a serial killer without a type.

It's 1956 and fifteen-year-old Betty Broadbent has never left the Cornish fishing village of St Steele or ventured far beyond the walls of the boarding house run by her erratic mother. But when the London press pack descends to report on a series of gruesome murders of young women, Betty's world changes. In particular she is transfixed by mysterious and aloof reporter, Mr Gallagher. As the death toll rises, an unlikely friendship blossoms between Betty and Gallagher. But as their bond deepens, they find themselves entangled with the murders and each is forced to make a devastating choice, one that will shape their own lives - and the life of an innocent man - forever.

The only reason I finished this novel was that I wanted to know if I was right about the plot. I didn't fully read the summary before I started listening to it because I was in a hurry to find an audio book  for the long drive home. If I had read the whole description, then I wouldn't have pick it up. It doesn't help that Laura Powell has the same name as another writer, who I thought this was when I picked it up. This is made more confusing by the fact they both British with Welsh links. This is (one of the reasons) why pen names are a thing.

The opening is really strong, introducing us to Betty and what's the situation going on within the village. It really hooked me in.  However, then the next chapter is a flash forward to 2006 Mary, a pathetic 65 year old that has no motivation and is waiting for the sweet kiss of death. Except for revealing what happened in 1956, I didn't care what went down in these chapters involving Mary. Especially, as1956 Mary is completely unlikable without a redeemable thing about her and 2006 Mary is the same.

The biggest problem is the characters. They are all terrible, uninteresting people who only grow more unlikable the more time you're forced to spend with them. I liked and was invested in Betty in the beginning but this was ruined half way into this book. She starts as a capable 15 year old who often left to run a hotel by herself due to her mentally ill mother. The complicated nature of her relationship with mother, who is most likely Bipolar, was done really well. The more the book goes on the more Betty becomes like the other characters who are whinny and bland. You can have unlikable characters, but they should be distinct from each other. 

An another big issue is the romance. Even if you look past that Gallagher is double the age of an underaged Betty, he is still terrible to her. He's all we can't do this but keeps doing it while being a jerk to her. The plot largely rides on this relationship and the Betty we get at the beginning disappears into him. While some people do start relationships and change into them, Betty is gone immediately for plot reasons. It some what mixed signals about whether we are meant to like this relationship or not. I get the feeling we are, in the beginning Gallagher is described as younger, so you don't realise that he middle age for this time period straight away.  I'm almost anti-romance in books in general, so this might be less of an issue for some other people, but Gallagher is still a grown arse man who blames everything on a 15 year old and still gets to play hero.

The plot in theory is really good, but the execution is weak. I honesty don't think anything is gained by having parts set in 2000s. A lot of the better parts of plot go undeveloped and the ending is rushed. I figured out the ending and thought it would actually be really good until we got there. Then it was unsatisfying and Betty has no agency at all. Yes, she directs the plot but its to kick someone else into gear. The mystery is what actual mystery are like, you don't know who it is until they tell you. I did figure it out but this more random guessing. This hard to explain without spoiling but I will try my best. I have a really big issue with the solution. I totally believe it, it works. However, we get no overshadowing so it ends up being lazy and stereotypical.

I listen to this on audio book and I wouldn't recommend it. Not sure if it was the voice actress
or the writing but parts often sounded like audio description. I lean towards writing, as we got sentences for actions e.g. Betty put her shoes on. The main reason I would suggest reading over listening is I often had to rewind back to clarify what was said. The end was especially bad for this but I think is mainly to do with the ending being rushed.

Overall, I give this book 2/5 stars for Missing Knifes. There's an interesting idea here, but the execution is done terribly. Some things are done well which I wished more time spent on these aspects. As this is Powell's debut novel I'm incline to be more forgiving, e.g. maybe she doesn't realise than none of the female character has any real agency. There's definitely a good novel in her. This isn't it- for me at least. I would read her again if the plot was right.

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