This is a cross between a lesbian love story and a thriller. That does not give anything away. The Prologue leaves you with no doubt that something terrible has happened. Then the first three very short chapters, which describe the meeting of the women hikers in the bothy (a shepherd’s hut) on a Scottish mountain leaves you in no doubt that there is an attraction between Lori and Alex. The question is whether these two themes will weave together to create a coherent story, and they do.
To deal with the love story first. It is a very good description of two people getting together. It covers the uncertainty, the embarrassment, the tentative approaches, and then the pleasure as Lori and Alex luxuriate in each other’s company. Of course, because it is a same-sex relationship there is a difficulty to overcome other than the usual ones: will my family and friends like this person? Will they come to terms with the relationship? Or will they be difficult? How will old flames cope? All of these issues come up as part of the story. There is very little however about the difficulties that same-sex couples actually face. If you are expecting Radclyffe Hall’s “The Well of Loneliness” you can forget it. Lori’s brother, Scott, reacts badly but he has a back story which is hardly surprising given that he was at a boarding school.
There is nothing here that would shock Queen Victoria, although she may have found the bedroom scene educational. It is very simply a love story written with a certain lyricism that will charm you.
The thriller is another matter entirely. It centres around an extremely vicious and nasty misogynist, a bit like the villain in Helen Fields’ “Perfect Remains” – the only difference is that this is a working class villain. Given that the seminal moment occurs in the Prologue, this does not give anything away. The question is how the villainy will develop. This is a Mr Hyde without the more civilised qualities of Dr. Jekyll. He is vicious from the word go, and it is his addiction to homicide that brings the book to its conclusion.
Like any good myth, and I mean that in the best possible sense, it all ends well,and they all live happily ever after. Well, those of them who live do that. It is very much in the tradition of Voltaire that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Well, that is what Candide thought. I am not convinced that Voltaire believed that. Wendy Hudson is not Christopher Brookmyre of Doug Johnstone. She believes that people can and do recover from trauma. I am not sure that I share that view of the world, but it is unquestionable that the end of this story is a positive one with everyone coming to terms with their lives, and then getting on with them.
This is an extremely easy book to read given the subject matter. The writing leads you into the story and you simply want to keep turning the pages. That is one of the requirements of a good storyteller. And that is what Wendy Hudson is – a very good storyteller.