Title: The Unforgotten by Laura Powell
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Historical/Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: C
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
For fans of Louise Penny and Tana French, this haunting debut novel “with a slight Broadchurch feel” (Sunday Herald) explores the devastating repercussions of a long-ago crime as it delves into forbidden relationships, the emotional bond between mothers and daughters, and the dark consequences of harboring secrets.
It is the summer of 1956, and fifteen-year-old Betty Broadbent has never left the Cornish fishing village of St. Steele or ventured far beyond the walls of the Hotel Eden, the slightly ramshackle boarding house run by her moody, unpredictable mother. But Betty’s world is upended when a string of brutal murders brings London’s press corps flooding into the village, many of whom find lodging at the Hotel Eden. She is instantly transfixed by one of the reporters, the mysterious and strangely aloof Mr. Gallagher—and he, fully twice her age, seems equally transfixed by her.
The unlikely relationship that blooms between Betty and Mr. Gallagher is as overlaid with longing and desire as it is with impropriety and even menace. And as the shocking death toll rises, both Betty and Mr. Gallagher are forced to make a devastating choice, one that will shape their own lives—and the life of an innocent man—forever.
With narratives that shift from 1956 to the present day and back, The Unforgotten is a mesmerizing and eerie portrayal of two people bound to each other by a secret that has the power to shape, and destroy, lives.
Weaving back and forth between past and present, The Unforgotten by Laura Powell is an intriguing mystery about a spate of murders in a seaside town.
In 1956, fifteen year old Betty Broadbent lives with her mom, Dolores, who manages the Hotel Eden in St. Steele. When young women are targeted by a particularly vicious killer, several journalists descend on the small town as they cover the story. Betty is instantly fascinated with Gallagher, a reporter who is twice her age. Despite her mom’s best efforts to pair her daughter with George Paxon, the son of a wealthy factory owner, Betty and Gallagher are soon seeing one another in secret due to the impropriety of their fledgling romance. In between trying to convince Gallagher there is nothing wrong with their relationship, Betty covers for her mother, who seems to be suffering from bipolar disorder and a drinking problem.
In 2006, Mary Sugden has received a troubling diagnosis but before she can tell her husband, Jerry and daughter Cath about it, she is distracted by a troubling news story about the person who was convicted of the brutal murders in St. Steele a half a century earlier. Mary is determined to right a wrong, so she tracks down the only person who can possibly prove what she believes to the identity of the real killer.
Both storylines are interesting but the story arc set in 1956 is rather slow paced and none of the characters are particularly well-developed or likable. Betty is a curious blend of mature and hopelessly naive. She is obviously dealing with a lot since her mother’s behavior is unpredictable as she veers back and forth between manic highs and bouts of deep depression which leave her bedridden. Dolores is also searching for love and her heart is broken numerous times when these relationships inevitably end. Betty is obedient to her mother but she is impatient with Dolores’ attempt to set her up with George. Needless to say, once Betty meets Gallagher, she cannot bring herself to completely reject George, but she definitely becomes more resistant to her mother’s matchmaking. Betty is also frustrated by Gallagher’s frequent changes of heart where she is concerned.
Readers who are expecting a straight up mystery will most likely be underwhelmed by how quickly the murders take a bit of a backseat to the drama playing out in the Hotel Eden. The few mentions of the ongoing investigation paint a portrait of a suspect being railroaded as the police try to wrap up the case in order to placate the frightened townspeople. It is not until the events in present that the person convicted of the crimes is named but is this person actually responsible for the murders?
The Unforgotten by Laura Powell is a character driven novel with a fascinating mystery to solve. Unfortunately, the plot is rather melodramatic and it is difficult to become overly invested with the characters since they are so poorly developed and impossible to like. The identity of the killer is rather easy to guess even though the motive for the crimes is elusive. There are a few unexpected twists that are revealed later in the story but the conclusion is abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying.