A quiet Suffolk village, 1944: Fourteen-year-old Gerald Haxton is a lonely boy who regards his still-born twin brother Jack as his only friend. His mother, a famous children's writer, guards Jack's memory jealously, claiming him as the model for the boy detective in her series of adventure stories, and Gerald, disturbed and unpopular, has no hope of ever measuring up to him. Playing in the woods near his home, Gerald discovers the body of his elder sister buried in a shallow grave. She has been beaten to death with a wooden stake and her boyfriend, a young G.I., is hanged for the crime.
London 1995: As the country prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, Gerald, who remains a loner, is nearing retirement. Obsessed by routine, he still talks to his dead brother Jack. Surrounded by nostalgic artefacts at the TV prop-hire company where he works, he is constantly reminded of the past, and, with it, his sister Vera's death. Hoping to escape his lonely existence, he takes to following Mel, the twelve-year-old daughter of a colleague. A few days later, Mel, who bears a striking resemblance to Vera, disappears...
Delicate, merciless psychological probing drives this U.S. hardcover debut by suspense novelist Wilson (A Little Death, etc.), a study of the precarious line that separates the oddball from the murderous villain. As a boy in the Suffolk countryside in 1944 and as a grown man-child in contemporary London, Gerald Haxton is a gentle, troubled soul. He begins his narrative wistfully ("It wasn't the first time I'd come across a hand"). He then recounts how his twin brother died at birth, his sister was brutally murdered while still a teenager, his father cannot protect him and his mother cannot abide him. Mumsy is the famous M.M. Haldane, author of the Tom Tyler, Boy Detective series, and excerpts from the detective stories provide an excruciating contrast to Gerald's own bleak childhood. As an adult, he lives vicariously through theatrical experiences, seeing Cats105 times. Despite run-ins with the police, he begins following a young London girl who reminds him of his sister, Vera. Interspersed with Gerald's story is that of his Aunt Tilly, his mother's sister and his father's lover, anxious to set things right before she dies. Each of Wilson's characters represents a unique imbalance between human weakness and longing for something better. The emotional weight that tips the balance to create kindness or crime, a savior or a monster, grounds Wilson's story as well as her style. She is at her best in detailing loneliness. If she rushes a bit to tie up loose ends or uses secondary characters who lean to stereotype, it does not undermine the stark effect of her psychological portrait of a family of oddballs and monsters more horrible and more real than anything portrayed in the Haldane books, which dramatize childhood travails.