After Everything You Did – Stephanie Sowden

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else?

What if that someone else was a multiple murderer, and nobody believes that you aren’t that person. That you didn’t do those things. That you know nothing except that you were in an accident, and when you woke up you were told you were this person, and with every word you say, you move deeper into a prison system which has already convicted you without trial.

That’s what’s happened to our protagonist.

Waking up in hospital as a patient, remembering nothing – her life a blank, she’s told she is Reeta, abductor of multiple girls with long blonde hair – girls who looked just like her. Killer of two, failed murderer of a third, and suspected of two more.

How can she convince them she’s not, if she doesn’t know who she is either? And, who’s actually going to believe a multiple murderer when she says she has amnesia?

Enter Carol. The one person who might see through the face everyone else has placed on her, to believe that maybe the person is telling the truth – at least, about her amnesia.

The only way to find out, is to investigate Reeta. Her life, her background, every stone Carol can find needs to he turned over, the shadows brought into the light.

Only then can the truth – whatever it is – be told.

This is a seriously brave plot to work in a debut novel – it’s one even the most seasoned writers have trouble with. So I’m already rooting for this one! I go in with respect to the author, hoping for a good story, that holds up.

Right away, we have the angry cops – one clearly prone to aggression – and nobody believing the convenient amnesia story, even her lawyer. A lawyer already old before his age, thanks to this case. They all think her a soulless monster – and the damage done to the two murdered girls they’ve found certainly matches up with that prognosis.

But still, Reeta pleads a blank. She doesn’t know who she is, or remember anything. She’s told she was found wrapped around a tree with her next victim in the trunk, but even that means nothing.

Reeta is written well. Sympathetic, tough, intelligent, but not overdone. Sowden resisted the – understandable – urge to perfect this character. She’s still human – albeit a human with no memory of her life.

Carol is the product of an affair her wealthy (white) mother had with a (black) labourer – and a female journalist, in the 60s. So she’s already got my interest. Sure, she also stabbed one of the agents on this case in the back on a previous case (which ended their relationship), but nobody’s perfect.

Carol’s background and job as a female reporter does mean a couple of racist and sexist terms that I certainly wouldn’t be willing to say out loud appear in the text (though I note that the n-word is not spelled out), but I think the context is there and the point is made.

Other racism, not to mention misogyny, is that of the time – and while mentioned, is not explored. Our main characters are simply neither of those things, which is a good way of doing this. These are the days of LBJ and women *gasp* attending college with *bigger gasp* black people, who are *clutches pearls and faints* allowed to sit in the same places as white people! So these brushes aren’t pretty to see, even in passing, but they are pretty true to form.

It’s a good choice, I think, made by Sowden to not take the usual anmesiac killer route of spending her time trying to blur the lines of whether this woman is or is not Reeta with no memory. Instead, we get an exploration of creepy cults, abuse, and nature vs nurture.

I really enjoyed reading this one. Sowden has put a lot of time and work into making everything fit together, and it makes for a pretty neat jigsaw when you get all the pieces in.

If you like plot that will pull you along, deep characters, and a twist that is not what you think it will be – this is a good one for you. I’m looking forward to more from Sowden – if this debut is anything to go by, the next one will be excellent!

After Everything You Did will be available on 7th April 2022. Buy from Amazon in the US or UK, or your favorite bookstore

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