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Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Other Child by Charlotte Link

Pegasus, 416 pages, $15.95 (c2009, English ed. 2012)
Translated from German by Stefan Tobler

“The Other Child” is a treat: a dark, disturbing, chewy treat. Set in 2008 in Yorkshire, England, this book belies the fact that it was written in German by a German. It is the perfect brooding British mystery. (A long-distance handshake to the translator. The book reads extremely well in English.)

The book begins with a short description of an incident in 1970. A young woman has seen something on an isolated farm and it makes her fear for her life. Alas, we are fated not to know what happened for a long, long time, as the main story in 2008 unfolds with a tenseness and masterful heightening of suspense.

Gwen Beckett, spinster and farmer’s daughter, has found a man. She’s plain; he’s handsome. She’s socially awkward; he’s smooth as silk. Gwen calls her childhood (and almost only) friend, London physician Leslie Cramer, to  come and celebrate her engagement to Dave Tanner. Totally surprised, Leslie agrees to come. It will also give her a chance to visit her grandmother, Fiona Barnes, who lives in the same area.

Fiona and Chad Beckett, Gwen’s father, have been lifelong friends. Fiona was a constant presence on the farm, even before Gwen’s mother died. That is what led to Leslie’s friendship with Gwen. After Leslie’s mother died — a hippie who succumbed to drugs — she was raised by Fiona and often taken to visit the Becketts.

Besides Fiona and Leslie, the other guests to the party include Jennifer and Colin Brankley who visit the Becketts' bed-and-breakfast several times a year.

In the background of the main story is the murder of a young local woman one night a few months earlier. She was a college student who had been earning money babysitting. She was killed as she walked home one dark and lonely night. When someone from the engagement party is murdered, the police detective, DI Valerie Almond, tries to draw a link between the two murders.

When Charlotte Link introduces “the other child” well into the meat of the book, the sense of foreboding lies heavily until the end. That story begins during World War II and the evacuation of children from London. Fiona was one of those children and, we learn, it was to the Beckett farm that she was sent.

Link deftly introduces her characters, weaving back and forth between 2008 and World War II. Guilt stretches its long arm and the repercussions ripple far forward, it turns out, but does it have anything to do with the murders? Is there a serial killer stalking this quaint and picturesque area of Yorkshire?

Everyone, including DI Almond, has doubts and second thoughts. There are a lot of heavy psychologically burdens being hefted by almost everyone. The pages seem weightless, however, as Link moves the story along very well.

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