Ex-probation officer Ruth Dugdall won the CWA Debut Dagger award for her novel The Woman Before Me and also won the Luke Bitmead Bursary in 2013, her experience within the prison system heavily informing her highly successful crime novels. In her new standalone suspense novel The Things You Didn’t See, Dugdall’s skill at creating mystery and intrigue continues.
In the farmhouse where she grew up, Cassandra Hawke wakes one morning to find her mother has been shot, the apparent victim of a tragic suicide attempt. Called to the farmhouse as part of the emergency response team, paramedic Holly realises that she knows Cassandra from the past. The two women becoming allies, they set about trying to unravel the mystery of what really happened to Cassandra’s mother, Holly using her rare condition, synaesthesia, to gauge who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Did Maya really want to kill herself? Or, with the authorities and her family fighting over her inherited farmland, is there more to the tragic event than at first appears?
Unlike in Dugdall’s crime novels, the plot in this one simmers rather than explodes, the reader taken down a number of twisted paths, not unlike the narrow lane that leads to the book’s rural farm setting. This book is very character driven, the questions that Dugdall sets up for the reader possibly not so much about who is behind the tragic events of the 31st October but what their motives are, how the tragedy links to events of the past and who exactly knows what. Bringing in unusual subject matters like synaesthesia and sleepwalking also add a unique edge to the book that makes what perhaps could have been quite a traditional murder-mystery into something much more original. Dugdall’s use of setting in this novel is excellent and highly authentic, with the atmospheric Innocence Farm and its surrounding rural village perhaps akin to the small-town claustrophobia of a Stephen King novel.
If you like a traditional suspense novel with a unique twist, The Things You Didn’t See is definitely for you.