One ordinary morning at work Hannah Brown glimpses a young woman with dark hair, wearing a green coat spattered with rain. The woman is identical to her childhood best friend, Ellen Brecht. But Hannah believes Ellen is dead. Can it really be her?
For a moment it is as though the past twenty years have never happened; life becomes dazzling and exciting again and Hannah remember how it felt to be young and strong, and without regret. Then she thinks about what happened to Ellen and to her all those years ago and she's filled with a terrible fear. Because the seemingly idyllic Cornish childhood she and Ellen shared ended in obsession and betrayal. Has Ellen returned to forgive her, or to punish her?"
I am a big Louise Douglas fan, and have read every book she has had published so far. Her 2011 release, The Secrets Between Us, was a fantastic read, and has rightfully been chosen as one of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads of 2012. That's great news because it's a treat of a read, and I hope it'll open up Douglas to a wider readership because although her books are probably best defined as women's fiction, they are somehow also psychological thrillers in a way too. I think the dark covers hint best at what is inside her books, and I was very pleased to receive a review copy of her latest release In Her Shadow, and very much hoped to enjoy it as much as her previous novels!
Hannah Brown is a normal woman who is trying to get by in life, and put her troubled past behind her. But when she is at work and spots her old best friend Ellen Brecht in the corner of her eye, it starts Hannah on another downward spiral, and makes her panic. The reason for this is that Ellen died years ago, but Hannah knows what she saw. Hannah decides she has to try and find out whether it really is Ellen that is following her, and embarks on the task of finding out more about her friend that she left behind so many years ago. What really went on between Hannah and Ellen all those years ago that shattered not only their friendship, but two families as well? Why is Hannah destined to forever live in Ellen's shadow?
I will confess straight away that this book isn't anywhere near as good as 'The Secrets Between Us', and for me there is one reason for this - the characters. I found both Ellen and Hannah to be fairly unlikeable people, I couldn't empathise with either of them despite what happened to them in the book, and if I don't get on with the characters, it's always a job to give a book a great rating, despite how brilliant other aspects of it may be. Ellen is so self-centred that you just want to tell Hannah to walk away, she's a user and not a very nice human being at all. I felt slightly sorry for her because of her troubled relationship with her father, but for the most part, she wasn't likeable and I didn't care much for her at all. Hannah on the other hand needed to grow a back bone, she couldn't just tell Ellen "no", instead choosing to be destructive in sly ways, and I didn't like that at all. As an adult she isn't much better, doing what she thinks is best despite how it would affect others around her.
The best part of the book for me was the way it alternated between the present day story of Hannah trying to find out about the Ellen who is chasing her around, and the past tale of Hannah and Ellen as children, and how things came to be on such a decline between them. I was really intrigued by their childhood tale, with Ellen being ruled with her father's strict upbringing rules, a very awful man that you cannot help but hate. However, it was so well written that you couldn't see the twists and turns coming, and by the end when all is revealed, I was truly stunned because I didn't forsee anything like that at all, and I loved that Douglas was able to hide that from her readers. She describes the setting, the events so well that you're there in the book with Hannah, feeling her emotions along with her, even when you dislike her and don't want to feel any empathy for her at all!
I found in parts it did drag a little bit, and I had to force myself to carry on for a while. Some of the descriptive passages, particularly those with Hannah and Ellen's childhood tale were quite long-winded and I felt I had to really press on through. However, the book seemed to really pick up around halfway through and I read on to the end as I wanted to find out who was chasing Hannah and why she had been living with such a guilt over Ellen. Things are really slowly revealed to the readers, and it keeps your attention in that respect, as you're always wondering what is going to be revealed by Douglas next. It's not as tense or thrilling as The Secrets Between Us, but is certainly a good read for those who like something a bit darker in their reading material, and some quite serious issues are covered in the book. It's a well written and enjoyable read that is well worth picking up this summer.
You can buy In Her Shadow as an eBook or a hardcover now.