Life Ruins

Written by Danuta Kot

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

Life Ruins
Simon & Schuster
RRP: £8.99
Released: July 25 2019

This timely crime drama navigates the vividly realised backdrop, a bleak Yorkshire caught in the traps and snares of contemporary Britain. It illustrates the strength of the human spirit when faced with adversity, and where hope and belief can fade into desperation.

Told from three viewpoints, this is a new work from Danuta Reah deploying yet another pen-name opening with the unidentified body of a young woman washed onto the sand of this East-Yorkshire coast. We see Kay McKinnon, struggling with the changes in her life, most troubling is the loss of her husband, Matt. Kay was referred to as ‘Special Kay’, as she together with her husband were foster-parents, caring for troubled children; a vocation she had to abandon due to Matt’s illness. A former social worker, she finds herself now ‘lost’, with just a dog and her memories for company.

The second edge of the triangular view is Becca Armitage, a troubled woman, who is equally at a ‘loss’, leaving higher education, due to an ‘incident’; her studies unfulfilled she is now working not far from Kay, who (with her late husband) fostered her, cared for her, helping the troubled teenager from the scars of her past.  

Becca, finds herself crossing paths with the reclusive and mysterious Jared Godwin who is equally troubled. He lives in a caravan [on a ‘trailer park’], distanced from his family, a former outdoorsman, climber and tunneler now recovering from injury. Medicated on pain-killers, Jared is someone who now spends his time crawling along the damp floor of the internet, as opposed to damp caverns, due to his back injury. Together Jared and Becca come across a woman savaged, and are at odds to understand the circumstances of the woman’s beating. The police are little help, treating both Jared and Becca’s claims as unreliable, so Becca calls upon her former foster Mother Kay for help.

The two critical aspects that Danuta Kot [aka Danuta Reah] excels at in her writing is her ability to weave the backdrop onto characters who are far from perfect; making the narrative into a tapestry, an engaging and thought-provoking story. This time her canvas is a decaying northern seaside resort off-season, and deprived of joy so that bad people seep into the community, like the winter tide does under moonlight; and as it does, it leaves the sand with pieces of flotsam and jetsam. This is almost a metaphor for the characters who struggle with the wreckages of their own lives, and troubles.

After much backstory regarding the three protagonists, the shadows arrive, and the mystery of the disused mineshafts and caves come to show their significance and the linkage to the bad people who prey upon the vulnerable.

The world she paints is bleak. The claustrophobia not just confined to the caves, but to the decay and the darkness surrounding the people left in this area when the tourists have left.

Though, as the late Leonard Cohen once postulated, ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’

Engrossing and chilling, it is the perfect read for a winter’s evening where the mind can roam upon the lives and troubles of others.

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