A review of Tarnished by Julia Crouch

New books are always positively exciting. Finding, purchasing and then leisurely exploring, delight is a word synonymous for a self-confessed bibliophile looking for her next gorgeous literary fix at it were.

 It is with similar delight coupled with a hint of pained anguish that I have just finished incredible crime thriller, ‘Tarnished’, by the wonderful Julia Crouch.

Margaret Thwaites aka Peg lives in London with her friend Loz. An intelligent, privately educated, sensitive young woman, she makes frequent trips to visit her family by the sea.

Raised by her somewhat overbearing but exceedingly loving Grandmother, the rather solitary figure of her Grandfather and her bed-ridden clinically obese aunt, she returns regularly to the overly cramped, uncomfortably hot, cigarette fumed bungalow where she grew up,

Now elderly, Peg feels responsible for caring for her Grandmother and providing assistance to help care for her particularly odd daughter, Aunt Jean.

Informed as a child that her mother died and her father abandoned her immediately afterwards due to Peg painfully reminding him of his late wife, Peg is often perturbed by her complete lack of memories surrounding her childhood.

Feeling lost, ungrounded and disconnected, Peg decides, through tips sourced from a self-help book to try regression techniques in order to find or excavate trapped memories stored in her mind and thus she embarks upon a journey, a journey that will cataclysmically change her life forever.

Did her beautiful mother really die? Can she find her father who apparently abandoned her, even though warned to stay away by Aunt Jean? Who is the mysterious Keith that her Grandmother says she misses? What has the strip-club Flamingo’s got to with it all? Why does her Grandmother have an assortment of pictures of young girls hidden away? Is there a reason she simply cannot remember any of her childhood before the age of ten?

Tarnished is beautifully written, cleverly structured and Julia is obviously an expertly and meticulous plotter. The story begins very slowly, almost teasingly slow in fact and then as the reader begins to feel just a little impatient; the pace begins to accelerate, rapidly, one being thrust headlong into the continual unfolding of a dark and horrifying collection of events that will leave you gasping for your breath.

With very real and nuanced characters, a main protagonist in Peg that one cannot help but fall in love with, Tarnished throws up many questions for the reader to ponder. Not simply whether the past is best left unvisited, but also our understanding of identity and who or what we allow to define us. Memories, our reliance upon them to vividly record our lives and our anguish when things cannot be recalled sufficiently or perhaps even at all, how the mind is affected by trauma and how well we do we ever really know someone and finally and most pertinently, how far would anyone go to protect their own family?

Julia Crouch is an skilled crime writer, delivering a psychological thriller, that is dark, menacing, powerfully intriguing and most certainly, well worth a read.

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