Monday, May 13, 2013

The Start of Everything


Cambridge, England police detectives Chloe Frohmann and Morris Keene are investigating a badly decomposed corpse found in a drain. They know nothing about the victim, except that she was wearing a red sweater when she died.

Unknown to the police, someone else is investigating, too.  Mathilde is an intelligent and perceptive young woman who can barely tolerate human interaction. She works in the dead letter office at the University of Cambridge, where she is trying to track down the intended recipient of a series of passionate love letters (which Mathilde reads), sent to someone called Katja at Corpus Christi College. One of the letters mentions Katja’s red sweater.


These two investigations converge and intertwine in The Start of Everything, a British thriller by Emily Winslow.

The Start of Everything is fraught with confused identities, lost objects, undeliverable mail, and mistaken assumptions. The timeline spirals backwards, from the discovery of the body to the previous spring at a former manor house, once grand, now chopped up into a warren of apartments. There, tenants can easily listen to each other through the walls. As you might expect, they misunderstand what they hear.

The cops, Frohmann and Keene, are smart and well-trained, but preoccupied with their own separate emotional problems. This makes them only slightly more effective than the autistic girl, who views the world through a lens of fear and alienation. They stumble over vital clues without realizing their importance, misunderstand what they’re being told (and what they’re saying to each other), and allow the ragged edges of their lives to intrude upon their jobs.

The Start of Everything is messy, twisty, and atmospheric. It’s really different from the Golden Age writers I cut my teeth on - authors like Sayers and Christie, in whose hands clues always add up to tidy solutions. Nothing is tidy in Emily Winslow’s world - it’s a lot more like ours.

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