Murder mystery unravels in letters

April 17, 2016
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Letters to my Daughter’s Killer, by Cath Staincliffe (Murdoch Books, RRP $37):

When Ruth Sutton receives a text from her daughter Lizzie asking her to babysit the following weekend, she takes a moment to reflect on the happiness she finds in being a grandmother, before agreeing to look after her beloved granddaughter Florence.

Then, just a few short hours later her son-in-law calls to say something awful has happened. He sobs as he tells her that he believes Lizzie, his wife, is dead.

The story is told in the form of letters to the person who murdered Lizzie in her home, bashing her head in with a poker from the fireplace on a quiet Saturday evening as her little girl was upstairs in her bedroom.

Ruth’s first letter explains that she hoped to find some closure, some form of resolution, from writing her thoughts. From there, the letters retrace the story, taking us back to the day of the murder, as Ruth went about her normal, mundane daily tasks in the hours before her life was forever changed by tragedy.

When the call comes, she rushes to her daughter’s house and manages to get inside before the police can stop her. What she sees continues to haunt her throughout the story: the sight of her beautiful daughter lying dead on her livingroom floor in a pool of blood.

Her son-in-law and granddaughter move in with Ruth in the short-term, because their home is still a crime scene and, as Ruth admits to herself, they probably would no longer want to live in a house that would evoke such terrible memories.

Ruth reaches out to her ex- husband for support and together they struggle to cope with the death of their only child as the police investigation moves slowly along. Lizzie had been on the receiving end of some unwelcome attention from a stalker a year or so earlier so for Ruth and her family, the fact the police are unable to find the man who had cause her so much grief – and who was an obvious suspect – was incredibly frustrating.

Ruth’s letters continue to detail the awful day-to-day process of just trying to get on with life after Lizzie’s murder and when an arrest is made it comes as something of a surprise to everyone: both the characters in the book and to the reader.

However, in a split second, Ruth notices something that convinces her the accused is guilty and from there, we are taken through the trial and its aftermath.

This isn’t the typical murder mystery, with the story more about how something of this magnitude affects the families involved than about the blood and gore. However, the emotions are incredibly raw and believable.

It’s not a huge read (232 pages), but it is hugely compelling. I read it in one sitting and was almost a little disappointed when I’d finished.

Not because I disliked the ending, but because it was one of those rare books you can truly lose yourself in.

Jillian Allison-Aitken

I come from the other land down under, where men are men, and sheep are nervous. I'm a sub-editor and in the past have been a proof-reader, news editor and web editor. I am also an ex-columnist, and book and software reviewer for the local daily newspaper.I still read. A lot. And surf the web. Also a lot.You'll find a little about both of those pastimes here, and on By George.

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