Most families have secrets, however innocuous, that they would rather remain buried.
But what if those secrets are particularly dark and damaging? And what happens when painful events of the past suddenly impinge on the present?
This is the knotty premise for bestselling West Yorkshire-based writer Linda Green’s latest page-turner The Last Thing She Told Me, published in paperback this week and on the Richard and Judy spring book club list.
The novel was partly inspired by a news item that Green, a former journalist, came across. “I keep a folder of stories that interest me and one of them was a case where an elderly lady had died and her children, while clearing the house, found the remains of several babies in boxes,” she says. “It just made me think of the horror of the children discovering that and not being able to get any answers but also about how women of that generation were made to feel ashamed about things that weren’t necessarily their fault and the burden they had to live with in order to keep these terrible secrets.”
Green is not afraid to tackle difficult and disturbing subject matter – her previous two novels dealt with domestic abuse and child abduction – and The Last Thing She Told Me deftly navigates trauma, grief and loss with great sensitivity while at the same time driving the narrative along at a sprightly pace.
Things are set in motion by a death-bed conversation between thirtysomething Nicola and her grandmother Betty who shortly before slipping away whispers to her granddaughter that there are babies at the bottom of the garden. Nicola tells her mother Irene who dismisses it, but then Nicola’s youngest daughter finds a tiny bone while playing in Betty’s garden and it becomes apparent that something sinister has taken place. The police get involved and soon things start to unravel... It is Green’s great skill that she is able to deliver a thrilling read that also throws up much food for thought. In this case, relating to the debate around the shaming of women and listening to victims which, given what’s happened over the past couple of years, all feels very timely. “The #MeToo movement sprung up and was ongoing while I was writing the book and it just increased my determination to shine a light on those issues,” says Green.
“Although we are much more open as a society in terms of talking about these things, and that is healthy, women are still judged harshly. It still exists.” The book fearlessly goes into some bleak and sombre places and Green admits it wasn’t easy for her as a writer to go there. “I think I’ll look back on my most recent novels as my dark period,” she says, laughing. “And this one was quite tough and emotionally draining to write. The book I’m currently working on is a bit lighter – I think I needed to do that.”
Linda Green will be signing copies of her book at Waterstones Harrogate, noon, March 16, The Grove Bookshop, Ilkley, noon, March 20 and Waterstones, Bradford, 6.30pm for a talk and reading on March 20.