There are a precious few Paddy Richardson books tucked within the stacks of unread novels around here - sort of like secreted Easter eggs, to be unearthed and devoured when required. Needing something that would be reliably good recently, TRACES OF RED was just the thing as Paddy Richardson is a particularly talented writer of psychological thrillers. Even if a twist can be seen coming, there's an emotional wallop that comes with it to keep the reader engaged. When the twist isn't so obvious, it still comes with a side serve of something to really make you think. And everyone of her characters is believable.
Some of her books are stand-alones, but TRACES OF RED is the first of the Rebecca Thorne books (followed by CROSS FINGERS), starting out with Thorne's life in free-fall. Thorne is desperate to make a documentary about a man she believes has been wrongly convicted of the murder of three of his family members. The action in the novel switches between the back story of the sister, husband and son that died supposedly at the hands of a loving brother, and the daughter that survived the murder spree, as well as Thorne's own professional and personal life. It also goes backwards into the life of the brother and sister at the centre of the murder spree, in particular their very difficult start, making it less clear why such a closely bonded pair would have ended up in this situation. Needless to say Thorne's a bit of an obsessive about this story. Partly because she truly feels there are questions to be answered about the conviction, and partly because she's in desperate need of something to prove herself.
Which is why the storyline in TRACES OF RED is so clever. Is Connor Blight innocent? There's certainly a case to be built, and there are others that agree with Thorne. At the same time is Thorne blinkered by her own needs? Is her desire for something "big" / something important to hang onto so great that she's prepared to hammer the case into shape, to create something positive and ignore any possible negatives? Certainly her family has concerns, and that leads to plenty of tension with them. Her lover might start out agreeing with her, but their relationship eventually goes pear-shaped and you have to wonder how much of that is because of his wife's illness and how much is his pulling away from the obsession, seeing the doubts that Thorne refuses to see.
The reader is thrown off the deep end into this story from the opening paragraphs. Thorne's back story is revealed as you go, in the same way as with Bligh. It will mean that readers will have to live with what feels odd to start off with. You don't immediately know anybody here, and the idea that Thorne's not all she seems at the same time as the story's not clear and the perpetrator in some doubt, means that there's a lot of unknowns here.
Part of the strength of all of Paddy Richardson's books has always been the human traits behind the story. In Thorne she's created a flawed person who is both likeable and profoundly worrying. There's so much about Thorne that's confronting, as with Connor Bligh. His own background is one right out of the sympathy textbook - there's much about this man that seems to make him an unlikely killer, and at the same time, there's glimpses of something else. Fleeting and very very hard to put your finger on, it's not until right at the end of the book that the reader gets a chance to see both of them unmasked. Real. Very flawed, and somehow sad - the pair of them.