Last words, big secrets…

The Last Thing She Told Me by Linda Green

After a brief prologue, an aside by an unnamed narrator, that tells of shame and secrets and warns that they’ll come to the surface, we join Nicola in her grandmother’s house just before Betty  will pass away. They have one last, strange conversation before Betty takes her last breath…

I had been sitting there for some time, maybe twenty minutes or so, before I heard her voice.
‘There are babies.’
I started. I hadn’t expected to hear another word out of her. I took her hand again. Her eyelids flickered open.
‘Babies? Where?’ I asked.
‘At bottom of garden.’
I frowned at her. She’d been coherent all the way through. Maybe this was a sign that she was at the end now. Then something clicked and I realized what she was talking about.
‘No, Grandma. Fairies,’ I said. ‘You’ve got fairy statues at the bottom of the garden. The ones I used to dance around when I was little.’
There wasn’t a pause on her part.
‘Not fairies, babies,’ she said firmly. ‘Look after my babies for me.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘What babies?’ It was too late. Her eyes shut again and a second later she was gone.  (page 12)

Betty leaves Nicola her house, to keep for her own daughter Ruby, keeping it in the family.  It’s a dark and damp Yorkshire stone house with no central heating, Nicola and her family don’t want to live there, but when Nicola is made redundant, money will become tight for her and her family, plumber husband James, teenaged daughter Ruby and younger Maisie, moving into grandma’s house might be necessary.  But what of Betty’s last words about the babies?  Nicola’s mum had trembled when she asked her if she knew what Betty had meant, Betty and her mum had had a falling out somewhere along the line.  Surely it all was a family superstition involving those fairy statues.  It’s the day of the funeral, and after the wake at Betty’s house. Maisie is playing in the garden and she finds something – ‘a fairy bone’.

I can’t possibly say any more about what happens, go beyond the blurb, but as the story progresses, many secrets will be unearthed, each time twisting the narrative further, ratcheting the suspense up a notch. Intertwined around Nicola’s story is the woman’s voice from the prologue, alternating with love letters dating from 1944 to Betty from William, a Canadian airman.  We’re uneasy about Will, naturally, given that other voice which tells a different story.  You can be sure, by the end of the novel, there will be no secrets left – however, will Nicola’s family survive all the trauma that will come?

The Last Thing She Told Me is a well-paced family drama with a psychological edge, rather than an out and out chiller.  The book has its moments of drama of course, but at its heart are the inter-generational relationships between Nicola, her grandma, her mother and her daughters. As the revelations begin, Nicola is in danger of having her family torn apart, can it survive?

I found that most of the revelations were well telegraphed – although not all!  This was an enjoyable page-turner – an ideal holiday read.

Source: Review copy – thank you.

Linda Green, The Last Thing She Told Me (Quercus, July 26), paperback 384 pages.

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