Thursday 13 August 2015

Reviewed: Without a Trace by Lesley Pearse

Without a Trace was published in paperback by Penguin, Michael Joseph on August 13, 2015.

Thanks to Sophie at edPR for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Without a Trace is Lesley Pearse’s 23rd novel, which is a fantastic achievement. Without a Trace is also the first book of Lesley’s I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading and if her other books are anywhere near as strong as this one, which I’m pretty convinced they are, I’m in for such a treat when I go back and read them. Without a Trace was an incredibly captivating read and I mean it when I say I don’t think another book has gripped me this much probably all year. I was hooked from chapter one and as the storytelling starts off at an even pace, the tension quickly begins to build, with secrets bubbling to the surface and I found myself reading at breakneck speed, eager for more to unfold. Despite its 400+ pages, I read Without a Trace in one go and I kept willing it to last that little bit longer because I really didn’t want to see the story come to an end.

It’s Coronation Day, 1953. Somerset. It’s raining relentlessly and the village of Sawbridge is bustling in preparation for the street party celebrations, which are forced to take place inside instead. The scene was set quickly and with ease by Lesley, and straight away I could imagine the scene in front of me with the lively atmosphere and the chaos brewing. In Molly Heywood’s case, there’s far more than the party on her mind. Her friend, Cassie, and Cassie’s daughter, Petal, haven’t showed up. Molly knows how unusual this is, especially because of how excited Petal was about showing off her costume. As Molly goes to investigate, she’s faced with the brutal scene of Cassie’s dead body sprawled on the floor. And Petal is nowhere to be found.

The book starts off quickly and brilliantly. I was shocked at the state Cassie was in, even though the reader knows she’s going to be found dead. It was a horrific scene for Molly to arrive at but she’s brave and decides to confront reality, to find out what happened to Cassie and even more importantly, find out if Petal can still be found and saved herself. Molly seeks help from George, her friend and policeman. He’s caring and professional, working hard to discover the truth about the events on Coronation Day. I was so intrigued by what had happened. How did Cassie die? Was Petal alive? Would Molly be able to play a part in getting to the bottom of the mystery? I had so many questions and Lesley answered each one spectacularly.

Without a Trace tackles so many brutal, upsetting themes. Seeking comfort in her own home was not something Molly was able to do. At 25, she lives with her parents but she does not lead an easy family life. Her father is violent and abusive, verbally and physically. He lashes out at Molly and her mother, not to mention his other daughter who already found her lucky escape. Molly’s mum appeared too weak to stand up for herself. I was urging her to leave him, because her husband was vile and only caused damage, never showing affection, but she was stubborn in sticking to her wedding vows. She was married to him, for better or worse, and despite all the attacks on herself and the people she loved, she didn’t see leaving him as an option. I was hugely fascinated by Molly’s father and his choices and characteristics. Mentally, he was messed up and I really wanted to see if it would be possible to learn of, and if so understand, any of his motives for being so abusive. As well as wanting to know why he was violent, I wanted to see if he would ever feel regret, or sadness, if he would ever go even further than I thought possible. Lesley’s writing of the Heywood family was so startlingly honest and they were very powerfully told and explored as a family. I felt such sadness for Molly and her mother and how frightened they were.

In a desperate bid to escape from her father and try and further uncover the truth of what happened to Cassie and Petal, Molly makes the tough choice to leave home, leave behind her mother, and head to London. One single letter has led her to believe that she could find out more about her friend Cassie in the capital city, and maybe she’ll be able to find her precious, sweet daughter Petal too. I thought the author’s description of London was great – a very realistic portrayal of the darker, grimmer side to the city which isn’t explored enough in fiction, I don’t feel. Some of the people Molly meets, the situations she encounters, the things she has to face are the stuff nightmares are made of but in a way, I couldn’t help but feel like if Molly could get herself to safety, the experience of London could help her strengthen as character, believe in herself more and feel more courageous and ready to face the world. She does seem to have inherited a bit of that fearful side her mother has and so as this book goes on, I was hoping to see Molly come out of her shell a bit more and turn from that scared young woman into someone extremely capable of standing up for themselves and getting through a life set in the time of such prejudice and judgment.

I thought character development in Without a Trace was thorough and wonderfully done. Other than just Molly, we meet several characters, all different and all adding to the plot. Some, you think you can trust and are proved wrong with. Others, you’re hoping will be honest and loyal and a help to the main course of the story. Mostly, I discovered that people are changeable and you can never quite know what to expect from them, but you know, I still bought into every single one of them.

I was also surprised by just how much I was moved by Cassie’s story. She felt like such a tough, spirited character to me. Whilst so many others felt she should be ashamed at having a mixed-race daughter, when that wasn’t the ‘done thing’, we learn the Cassie would never let them hold her back or give her grief. Cassie felt like an inspiration and I was left wondering whether the course of the story was going to make me change my mind over her. I was never sure quite what we were going to find out.

More than just having strongly built characters, the entire story in this book was multi-layered and full of depth. I expected this book to be almost entirely about the search for Petal but that does not give credit to Lesley’s writing at all. There are so many stunning strands to this novel and though the main theme is an emotional one, I was thrilled to see that Molly does get to grow and experience some happiness along the way. Making friends, working some place where she isn’t being controlled by her father, being distracted by men and being knocked down but getting back up are all the kinds of things I wanted Molly to go through, to build her as a character and introduce her to an actual life outside the walls of an abusive family home. That’s not to say the mystery of Cassie and Petal was not compelling enough on its own. It seriously was. Without a Trace had breaktakingly good storytelling with extraordinary secrets revealed and highly unpredictable twists throughout that were still making my jaw drop, even right at the very end. What an amazing novel.

Incredible storytelling with stunning secrets and unpredictability throughout. The ultimate, must-read novel.


  1. Great review, I loved this book!

    1. Thanks Suze! I remember you really enjoyed it too.


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