Source: Review copy, Netgalley
Publication: 7 March 2019 in e-book from Mulholland
Framed. Imprisoned. Pregnant.
Jenna thought she had the perfect life: a loving fiancé, a great job, a beautiful home. Then she finds her stepdaughter murdered; her partner missing.
And the police think she did it…
Locked up to await trial, surrounded by prisoners who’d hurt her if they knew what she’s accused of, certain someone close to her has framed her, Jenna knows what she needs to do:
Clear her name
Save her baby
Find the killer
But can she do it in time?
I’m a huge fan of Angela Clarke and so when TBC on Facebook offered an opportunity to bid for the chance to be a named character in Angela’s new novel, with proceeds going to the National Literacy Trust, I could not resist.
At that stage I had no way of knowing that the book that Angela was writing would turn out to be as massively good as On My Life certainly is.
A stand –alone novel, On My Life grabs you from the beginning and never lets go. Tense, exhausting, gripping it’s all of those thriller staples, but it is so much more. Angela Clarke has so vividly recreated the women’s prison in which her protagonist, Jenna Burns is incarcerated awaiting trial, that you feel as if you are in there with her.
This is not just excellent research; it is living breathing jail time. I got scared, then I got angry as all of the injustices, large and small were meted out on Jenna and her poor cellmate, Kelly, just because they could. Compassion and empathy were hard to come by, regarded by prisoners and guards alike as a weakness that could never be shown.
The story is told in a dual time frame, then and now. Jenna’s incarceration takes up the now timeslot and we travel back in time to understand what led her to her present location and the charge of murder she faces.
Jenna’s life was good and she was on course to it becoming even better with a new love, and a whole new future in front of her. Angela Clarke drip feeds these sections with tiny drops of doubt and suspicion, leading us to wonder whether everything in Jenna’s garden is as rosy as she wants to believe, but nothing prepares us for the brutal murder and other horrible crimes with which Jenna is charged and which no-one seems to be in any doubt that she committed.
From the opening scene, where Jenna faces a media onslaught whilst being led into the prison van, the tension, noises, smells, the smells, all the visceral emotions that crowd her, grab the reader’s attention and make you feel as if you are there with her, all hope gone, still wondering how you could possibly have ended up here?
Whilst Clarke does a brilliant job of conveying the very real emotions of incarceration and the sense of isolation and hopelessness that a new inmate faces, I thought she also did an excellent job of showing real character development as Jenna realises how much she can learn from the women she makes friends with, once she has stopped thinking of them all as potential enemies.
Where the anger really surfaces, though, is when you understand that the utterly compelling picture that she paints about women in prison; pregnancy amongst inmates and the sheer lack of institutional capability to deal with pregnant women is all real.
Yes, this is a brilliant, breath-taking thriller that completely devours your time as you find yourself completely unable to put it down and I commend it to everyone for that alone. But it is also a searing indictment of the state of the justice system when it comes to understanding and dealing with women and the statistics and information that she details in the afterword are as shocking as the story the book has to tell.
Verdict: Riveting, nail-bitingly good, utterly compelling and beautifully plotted. (I liked the obstetrician a lot, too)
Angela Clarke is an author, playwright, columnist, screenwriter and broadcaster.
Her debut crime thriller Follow Me was named Amazon’s Rising Star Debut of the Month January 2016, longlisted for the Crime Writer’s Association Dagger in the Library 2016, and shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader Page Turner Award 2016.
Watch Me the second instalment in the Social Media Murder Series went straight into the UK paperback chart in 2017. Trust Me, the third in the Social Media Series published to tens of Amazon five star reviews in June 2017.
Her memoir Confessions of a Fashionista is an Amazon Fashion Chart bestseller. Her play, The Legacy, enjoyed its first run and rave reviews at The Hope Theatre in June 2015.
In 2015 Angela was awarded the Young Stationers’ Prize for achievement and promise in writing and publishing.
She volunteers with Womentoring, and the RSA Meet a Mentor scheme, and others, to help encourage and support marginalised artists into the industry. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Angela lives with her husband and far too many books.