Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 April 2021 from Pan MacMillan
My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review
Twenty-one years ago, Dr Richard Carter and his wife Pamela were killed in what has become the most infamous double murder of the modern age.
Their ten year-old daughter – nicknamed the Angel of Death – spent eight years in a children’s secure unit and is living quietly under an assumed name with a family of her own.
Now, on the anniversary of the trial, a documentary team has tracked down her older sister, compelling her to break two decades of silence.
Her explosive interview sparks national headlines and journalist Brinley Booth, a childhood friend of the Carter sisters, is tasked with covering the news story.
For the first time, the three women are forced to confront what really happened that night – with devastating consequences for them all.
When I Was Ten blew me away. Fiona Cummins has captured a very real sense of danger that begins with the opening sentence and prevails throughout the book. Imagine you are on a very powerful motorbike that is revving hard as you get on and then, without you having mastered it, it takes off leaving you clinging to it, trying to stay on as it whips and bucks like a bull in Pamplona. That sense of thrill, of very real danger, of knowing you could come a cropper at any time, is what it feels like reading this extraordinary book.
This is a dark book, and there is malice, cruelty, spite and hatred in it, so much so that that it is painful to read. From the very people who ought to be loving comes the most vile behaviour and it is hard to witness.
Told in two timelines, the present day (2018) and 1997, when Sarah and Shannon Carter, daughters of the local doctor, Richard Carter and his stylish wife Pamela, lived in Hilltop House, next door to Brinley Booth, and the three girls were fast friends.
Richard and Pamela are murdered in their beds, victims of a savage stabbing. That case was the headline in the tabloids because not only was it a savage double murder, but 10 year old Sarah Carter, dubbed forever ‘The Angel of Death, is sent to a secure institution for their murder, locked up for almost as long as she has been alive.
Told from first and third person perspectives, the book’s present day focus is sparked by a television documentary which revives all the horrors of ‘The Hilltop House Murders’. Shannon Carter has finally broken her silence and for Sarah Carter, relocated and living quietly under a different name, her life is about to change for ever.
Brinley Booth’s life is also destined to change. She is now working as a journalist for a tabloid newspaper and no-one knows this story as intimately as she does, outside of the sisters. But does she really want to make this story about her? That’s a can of worms she really did not want to confront.
Catherine Allen loves her husband Edward and their daughter Honor, though Honor is that that difficult age when truculence is at the forefront of their exchanges and secrecy is the name of Honor’s game. Catherine’s life is quiet and loving. Now all that, too is going to change because soon her life too will be over.
Fiona Cummins story is riveting, breath-taking and carries with it a real tension and ever-present sense of malevolent danger. An emotive, immersive tale of parental malice, sibling love and the impact that abuse can deliver over the longer term.
A side story of politics and greed helps to add another dimension to the tabloid feeding frenzy that Cummins depicts so well.
Verdict: Thrilling, visceral, a wild ride through dark and dangerous territory that is not for the faint of heart. Cummins pacing is spot on and her writing holds you in its grasp from first page to last.
Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. She lives in Essex with her family. When I Was Ten is her fourth novel.