Redemption Road by Lisa Ballantyne | A Review

Redemption Road by Lisa Ballantyne
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Redemption Road is Scottish writer Lisa Ballantyne’s second novel — her earlier debut work being The Guilty One — inspired by the murder of Jamie Bulger — and  published in 2012. The Guilty One attracted good reviews at the time and the Irish Independent put Ballantyne on a list of writers to watch.

Redemption Road is the story of a teacher, Margaret Holloway, who is involved in a motorway pileup on a snowy night. Trapped inside her car which is about to explode, Margaret is rescued by a stranger who then disappears.

Although she returns to work quickly, Margaret is traumatised by the accident. Something about being trapped in the burning car triggers buried childhood memories and makes her curious about her childhood.

When Margaret visits her father’s house, she retrieves a box of news cuttings and writings that her late mother had collected and as she looks through these clippings, she begins to remember glimpses from the past.

Meanwhile, she becomes increasingly fixated with the stranger who rescued her from the burning car. She begins to visit him in  hospital where he has been in a coma since the accident and sits with him.

Like so many novels these days, Redemption Road has two timelines: one from 1985 when, it transpires, Margaret was abducted at the age of seven and one from 2013 in the period following her car accident.

There are three main characters — Margaret, her abductor and a journalist who investigated the  1985 abduction. At first, as the story moves between past and present,  I was more interested in the 2013 timeline. Later, that changed, and I was increasingly drawn into the 1985 events. Margaret and her abductor — ‘Big George’ — are sympathetic and likeable characters. Angus, the journalist, much less so.

What I liked about Redemption Road is how sensitively the characters are developed and how positive the relationships are, particularly the relationship Margaret or ‘Moll’ and Big George and the adult relationship between Margaret and her husband Ben.

The plot in Redemption Road has one or two convenient coincidences but these are easy to forgive.  After the first couple of chapters, the story settles into a pacy and absorbing read.

[Disclosure: An Advance Review Copy (ARC) of Redemption Road was provided via the publisher, Little Brown Book Group UK/Piatkus vis Netgalley]

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward — A novel of dark family secrets

Sarah Ward
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Sarah Ward’s debut novel, In Bitter Chill, is set in Derbyshire in England’s Peak District. It is a cold, winter landscape well suited to crime fiction and Ward captures it beautifully to give In Bitter Chill a strong sense of place and reality.

The novel opens with a short prologue where we find a man and woman together in Truscott Woods. The man is digging, “trying to break ground that his ancestors knew to leave well alone”.

Close by lies a body wrapped in a winding sheet that clearly is going to be buried.

Fast forward to Chapter 1 where Detective Inspector Francis Sadler receives news of a suicide in the nearby Wilton Hotel. The dead woman is Yvonne Jenkins — aged in her sixties — whose daughter — Sophie — disappeared on her way to school some thirty years earlier.

Sophie and another girl — Rachel Jones — went missing in January 1978 when they accepted a lift from a stranger. Later on the same day, Rachel turned up — confused and barefoot — when she flagged down a passing motorist.

Sophie Jenkins was never found and the investigation into their disappearance had lain fallow for several years.

When news of Yvonne’s suicide reaches Rachel — now an adult and a professional genealogist — it reopens old memories and makes her want to find out what really happened all those years ago. And, since Yvonne’s suicide occurs close to the anniversary of the 1978 abduction, the police set about investigating whether there is a link to the old case.

Assisting DI Sadler in the investigation is DC Connie Childs.

“Whether she liked it or not, Connie was a catalyst for change and that was what this case, or cases, desperately needed.”

Connie, Sadler and DS Palmer are well drawn investigators and the relationships and interaction between the three is well written. It will be interesting to see if Sarah Ward returns to these characters in future novels. I, for one, would be interested in reading more.

As Rachel and the the police set about figuring out what happened, it becomes clear that three separate cases are linked — one from the past and two from the present. Some people are keeping secrets and Rachel’s research skills could hold the key that unlocks the mystery.

Ancestry, inherited memory and place in In Bitter Chill are all themes that would make for good book club discussions but the theme I’d most enjoy exploring is striking different attitudes between 1970s and now. Family relationships are where the differences are most pronounced — illegitimacy, family breakdown, separation and divorce, and children’s lives.

In Bitter Chill is a very accomplished debut novel. Sarah Ward has created a great sense of place, a strong plot and believable characters and she maintains suspense to the end. Strongly recommended.

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward is published by Faber & Faber. [Disclosure: An Advance Review Copy (ARC) was provided by the publisher via Netgalley for the purpose of this review).