Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 April 2020 from Bonnier Zaffre
‘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?
If you are a book lover, it is likely that you will have heard of this book. It will undoubtedly be one of this year’s runaway successes, if not THE runaway success. Deservedly so, because whatever you may have read about this book is true. Forget hype, this book towers above the crowd.
Chris Whitaker’s writing is delicate, poignant and absolutely spot on. His characters are riveting. Well-drawn, realistic, palpably human. None more so than our protagonist, 13 year old Duchess Day Radley. What a voice to front a novel! She is a character so beautifully written, so strong in personality that this book is bound to become a classic. If it isn’t made into a film I will eat my hat and everyone else’s too.
Reader, Chris Whitaker’s book made me cry. Wet sloppy tears that ran down my face like an unstoppable waterfall, such is the power of this writing.
We Begin At The End is set in sleepy Cape Haven, California – the epitome of small town America. Duchess Radley is sister to 6 year old Robin, and in reality she is, to all intents and purposes, in loco parentis. Duchess and Robin’s mother is Star – a troubled woman who has more than once tried to end her life, leaving Duchess to deal with the consequences.
Star and Robin never knew their father – or fathers – Star has never said – and she has had a number of unhappy acquaintances with unsuitable men. She can sing, and sometimes will do so for drinks and cash at a nearby bar, where Duchess will be her minder.
Duchess is a heart-breaking character. She has styled herself an Outlaw, a protector and she will do whatever it takes to protect her brother. Duchess can’t afford to be vulnerable, or even to look too clever;her job as she knows it has to be, is to make herself invisible until the time comes when she emerges from the shadows and makes sure no-one can harm Robin.
She has woven for herself a cloak of armour and nothing and no-one is going to penetrate it. Duchess is front and centre of this book and the things that happen do so because of her. She is fierce, full of courage and yet embattled in a way that no 13 year old should be. It is doubtful whether she has had a carefree day in her life. She trusts no-one; has no friends and rebuffs anyone who seeks to be a friend.
Vince Walker is released from prison after serving 30 years. He killed Star’s 7 year old sister, Sissy, and Star was never quite the same again. Many lives were changed that day, not least Walk’s. Now Chief of Police, Walk was Vince’s best friend and he loved him like a brother. Now Walk’s health is failing and when, only days out of jail, Vince is arrested for murder, he will do what he can to make sure his friend is not sent away again – even if Vince will do nothing to help him.
Dickie Darke is a property developer. A tall, looming man, he owns the bar Star sings in and he hangs round Star in a way that creeps out Duchess. She knows he is bad for her mother and brings nothing but ill when he comes to visit.
When Sissy was killed, her father Hal made his feelings clear to Vince; suffering was nowhere near good enough for him. And when Duchess starts a chain of events from which it is impossible to draw back, Walk knows it is to Hal’s home in Copper Falls, Montana that he must send Duchess and Robin, even though they do not know him.
Whitaker’s impeccably plotted novel, which is indeed a murder mystery, is so much more than that. It is a brilliantly written study of characters all of whom are flawed; mostly scarred and damaged people whose intentions are good but whose actions let them down. There’s a truth to these characters that shines through and makes them real; makes them people that you need to care about because they have suffered hardship; because they, too, care.
There’s such an emotional core to this story that it resonates long afterwards. There are many things to love about it not least the spectacular writing. More than anything it is a book about love and how much people are prepared to sacrifice for those they truly love.
There’s so much more I could tell you, but you should just buy the book and find out for yourself.
Verdict: Whitaker’s understanding of what drives people, of the essence of human nature, has created an astonishing and vividly told story that shines like a freshly cut diamond amid a heap of coal.
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.