When She Was Good by Michael Robotham

Reviewed by Gerard Healy

An engaging crime thriller from Michael Robotham featuring his clinical psychologist Cyrus Haven and a teenage survivor Evie. These two become emmeshed in a complex web of deceit, blackmail and murder involving some powerful figures with very guilty consciences. It is set mainly in northern England in 2020, but without any pandemic to contend with.

Both Cyrus and Evie share the misfortune of tragedy striking their respective families when they were younger. Therefore, the story started off a little confusingly for me as I tried to work out who was who and which female Police officer had helped rescue which young victim.

Six years earlier, Evie had been found by PC Sacha Hopewell, hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a brutal murder. Having no apparent family, she was given a new name and placed as a ward of the court in an institution. All this was kept confidential to protect her from the people behind the murder. They’re still looking for her because she is the only surviving victim of a child abuse ring and she might be able to identify them.

Cyrus Haven is one of the very few people who have earned Evie’s trust. This is partly because of his background and also because he is at heart a good man trying to help her. Evie has the very rare ability to detect when people are lying to her and Cyrus has passed this crucial test.

The relationship between Cyrus and Evie is a complicated one. He seems to be a combination of trusted counsellor, big brother, fellow sufferer, love interest and friend. Evie’s past has made it difficult for her to form a loving bond with anyone, and we understand her dilemma of being reluctant to deal with the issues involved. While she seems attracted to Cyrus, their future plans, if any, are left up in the air.

The murder of a retired detective, who was reviewing the murder that is connected to Evie, sparks the reopening of that case. Through the policewoman who originally found him, and who is now Detective Lenore Parvel, Cyrus starts his search for answers. However, he inadvertently alerts the law-breakers to her whereabouts. Tension notches up when Evie’s whereabouts become known and an attempt made to permanently silence her. Unfortunately, her best friend Ruby is mistaken for her. Evie then goes on the run.

The story is told in the first person by first Cyrus and then Evie. I felt that the author had a more authoritative voice with Cyrus than he did with Evie. Perhaps it’s easier to see the world through a 31-year-old male’s perspective than 17-year-old females, when you’re a middle-aged male. Another problem with Evie’s character for me is that she is supposed to be naïve about much of the world but world weary from her personal experiences. She doesn’t seem to have had any schooling and doesn’t fully understand many common expressions. When we learn of her foreign childhood, some of this becomes more understandable.

There are a number of loose ends that slightly jar the overall feasibility of the plot. For example, the behaviour of the staff at the Scottish hotel when Cyrus and Evie visit or the odd reaction of a senior policeman at a murder scene. Then the above-average ability of the villains to know what was going on, seemed unlikely to me. Another questionable twist for me was Cyrus’s ability to be ahead of the police in the search for a possible accomplice in the missing children case.

One debatable point is Cyrus’s motivation for delving into Evie’s troubled past in the first place and his belief that this would help her psychological recovery.

The story is peopled with a range of minor characters who roughly fall into the good, bad and indifferent category. There are the good Samaritans like Marty the boat owner who gives Evie a lift and then the bad apples like the bent cop and the mercenary. Some of the staff at Evie’s home seem indifferent to her plight and only see her outbursts as troublesome behaviour. Most of these are well-drawn, believable characters.

One character who is definitely bad is ‘Uncle’, the ringmaster of the sex abuse gang. He is a sinister foe who finally gets Evie in his sights and pursues her relentlessly. His forte seems to be to uncover the hidden illegal and immoral desires of powerful people and exploit them to his own advantage. He also proves a slippery character to pin down and, by a cruel twist, the legal system seems stymied to bring him to justice, partly because of Evie’s troubled past.

I would recommend this book to thriller readers for its engaging storyline and some sympathetic characters. It is perhaps not his best work, but it does suggest a look at his best-selling titles would be rewarding.

Michael Robotham, who lives in Sydney, was an investigative journalist before writing his debut thriller ‘The Suspect’ in 2004. He has written more than a dozen novels and in 2015 won the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for ‘Life or Death’, a standalone thriller.

When She Was Good

(2020)

by Michael Robotham

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 978 0 7336 4484 9

416 pp; $32.99

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