“I Let You Go” by Clare Mackintosh is a very powerful debut novel. She grabs the reader with an intense and sensitive storyline and never lets go. The themes of emotional and physical abuse, atonement and forgiveness are explored in a gripping way. Added to that very human story is a terrific mystery element.
The plot is presented with an alternate narrative between Jenna Gray and the police investigators of a hit and run accident where a 5-year-old boy, Jacob, is killed. The two detectives are attempting to find out who was responsible for the boy’s death. They’re determined to do right by Jacob’s mother and honor his memory by leaving no stone unturned. But this is a difficult case to solve: it was rainy and dark, and no one was able to figure out what kind of car hit him or see any noteworthy characteristics of the driver, basically leaving the detectives without any clues to follow. The main character, Jenna, disappears, attempting to make a fresh start in a small town on the Welsh coast. But she is haunted by her fears, her grief, and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.
As a former British police officer she was able to use her experiences to create the plot.
“Shortly after I joined the police there was the investigation of a real life hit and run accident,” she said. “It stayed in my mind for years afterward. I found it very hard to understand how anyone could drive away from a dead child. That got me thinking, what were their reasons? Then about nine years ago one of my sons died of meningitis. He was a twin who was only five weeks old. I thought a lot about grief and the affect it has on someone’s life. It changes us and defines the choices we make within a relationship. Yet, I was very careful to make sure the story remained fictional.”
As Jenna attempts to move forward there is an abusive past pulling her back. Mackintosh writes these heart-wrenching scenes, allowing the reader to go through the same emotions as Jenna. What the author does beautifully during the first third of the book is to keep people guessing who Jenna is: the mother or the driver. She teases the reader with quotes, such as these: “In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare;” and “About running away because I couldn’t see any other way of surviving except starting over…screaming every night because I can never be free from what happened.”
The abuser, Ian, is pure evil and based on the many offenders Mackintosh dealt with while in the police force, “When I was in the police I was really affected by the many women who suffered abuse. The offenders had these alternate realities built for themselves. There are very few perpetrators who attempt to justify their behavior; yet, this odd behavior in abusers I found intriguing. What is frightening about domestic abuse is how slowly it builds. If you said to my character in hindsight, ‘you will be ostracized from your friends and family, will not be able to control your own money, and will be told what to wear,’ I don’t think she would go willingly into that relationship. What happens is that it creeps up so gradually and someone’s self esteem is broken down.”
It should come as no surprise that the story is very realistic with scenes about police activities. Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She has investigated serious assault cases, worked with towns about crime prevention, and managed large public demonstrations. Her inside knowledge helps to create a believable, informative, and gripping story.
She noted, “My work experience helped in creating an authentic world. I had much less research to do in relation to investigations and how to authenticate the work police environment. It is a familiar world to me. The sound of feet on concrete and metal doors being shut is so familiar. I hope it added atmosphere.”
“I Let You Go” is a psychological thriller that the reader will not want to put down. The compelling characters and many twists will hook people from the very first page.