“How far would you go to protect your happy home?”
- Book: One Mistake
- Location: Yorkshire
- Author: Rona Halsall
This is my first encounter with author Rona Halsall’s writing, but it will definitely not be my last, that’s a promise! She has written nine psychological thrillers to date, with this book, One Mistake, sitting at exactly half way through the catalogue.
I do enjoy a tense storyline and this one ticked all the boxes, I didn’t even mind that there was no body count involved!
Now, how to set the scene without giving any spoilers away?…
Sara and Hailey are sisters, closer than most, despite having spent much of their childhood being cared for by the system, following the death of their father. They were separated into various foster families, with short interludes back with their neglectful mother, until her next bout of not being able to cope. Hailey is Sara’s senior and has a daughter Cassie, who is away at university. Although her marriage was brief and ended in separation, she is now quite self-sufficient and has dedicated her life to working with children in crisis, helping to give something back to, whilst hoping to improve, the care system which had never quite done its best for herself and Sara. Sara has been married to Matt for almost twenty years, having fourteen-year-old twins Sophia and Amelia (Milly) and late arrival, four-year-old Ezra. Life seems to be ticking along quite nicely for them, albeit with a few cracks beginning to show, until Matt receives some devastating news which will affect them all and Sara decides that, partly through a desire to regain some independence and partly through necessity, she must get a job, especially when she discovers that because of a costly and stupid mistake she has made, which Matt must never find out about, matters are ten times worse than they need to have been.
Sara has been volunteering a few hours a week at their local community centre, so when paid employee and one of her school mum friends, Fiona, is appraised of the family’s run of bad luck, she pulls a few strings and secures Sara a salaried temporary contract, which soon becomes a full-time permanent position. Within a few days, and because of the quickly deteriorating situation at home, coupled with Matt’s mood swings and sudden bursts of anger, Sara does something completely out of character, which puts her on the wrong side of the law and in the same position as her late mother had often found herself, something Sara had always promised herself she would never do. It also places her in an awkward position with the centre’s boss James, who discovers Sara’s deception and offers her a way out of her predicament – but at a huge personal and moral cost, although at the time she doesn’t realise just how great that is going to be! Matt meanwhile, has decided to put his IT skills to good use and when a client with a potentially very lucrative proposition approaches him, he sets up his own business – but this also comes fraught with challenges and some very unethical online content which, whilst it makes Matt feel very uncomfortable, he chooses to turn a blind eye to, distancing himself even further from his family in his efforts to keep his secret safe.
With Sara and Matt pulling against each other, both wrapped up in their own worlds of lies and deception and each reluctant to involve the police, things quickly escalate out of control and even the direct threat to someone they both adore, doesn’t have the power to bring them to their senses. Hailey and Fiona become the lynchpins on which the family all rely, but are they right to trust either of them? Eventually, with Matt still in denial, becoming more and more out of control and violent, Sara and Hailey need to have the kind of heart to heart conversation they thought they had left behind in their childhood, and when each manages to convince the other that they are still the closest of friends and natural allies, a plan of action is set in motion to protect those who are the most vulnerable in this volatile situation, whilst they bring an as yet unknown enemy to justice.
When the sisters eventually piece together what they think has happened, the instigator and insidiously manipulative force behind all their troubles becomes obvious and with a little help from a most unexpected source, the game is eventually up and the authorities are called in. Is there any going back, or indeed any way forward, and what future is there for this broken family?
This multi-layered, highly textured storyline was compulsive reading, which was intense and suspenseful from beginning to end, exuding a claustrophobic atmosphere so thick and cloying, I could have cut through it with a knife, and which seemed to linger, like a dark cloud, long after I had closed the final page.
Sara and Matt’s individual storylines were the edge-of-the-seat stuff of which nightmares are made, but unfortunately oh! so relevant to the fragmented society in which we find ourselves living today. One where a moral compass is all too often lacking. One small lie turns into a landslide of unstoppable deception. Fractured families slip through a system which is ostensibly there to help them, albeit with a tenuous security net which is full of holes. One where no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, even those of neighbours, friends or family. Where the opportunities to take advantage of the most vulnerable are seemingly limitless and almost undetectable.
Everyone appeared to be keeping secrets from everyone else and it was inevitably only a matter of time before so much deception and duplicity would cause a chink in someone’s armour, causing the whole situation to blow up in their faces, with a sure and certain outcome that other people would get caught in the crossfire and damaged in the fallout from the blast. There was a relatively small cast of characters, so just about everyone made it on to my suspect list to begin with. Even when I had narrowed things down to one or two names, those names changed every time the author added a slightly new twist to the storyline, of which there were many and I only worked out exactly what was going on just before the big reveal happened, so not a huge success for me and still a genuine surprise when the identity of the sole perpetrator of this devious, sick scheme, which was at the root of so much misery, was finally put out there for the world to see.
With such a morally corrupt and dangerous storyline, it behoved the author to present a cast of characters who were well defined and multi-faceted, yet dour and lugubrious by nature. This made none of them particularly likeable, trustworthy or relatable, so I was never really bothered about what happened to any of them. Yes, I might have started out by having some sympathy with Sara, although that quickly evaporated when her morals disappeared out of the window, along with her common sense. Why she would not have taken any one of a number of opportunities to confide in Matt rather than go behind his back in such a deceitful way, was only surpassed by her naivety. But what really turned my stomach, was that she selfishly put her own reputation and future before that of someone she claimed to cherish above all else, until Hailey took a hand in helping her see the error of her ways. Mind you, I wouldn’t have been quite as lenient with whining, whinging Matt in the first place. He was an unbelievable piece of work, who deserved everything he had coming his way. Definitely not parents of the year!
Although characters and plot are the two most essential elements of this storyline, the beautifully rugged Yorkshire location, with its wonderfully scenic Moors on the doorstep, is also described in sufficient detail, to afford a real sense of time and place, definitely more than enough to satisfy this most ardent ‘armchair traveller’, together with real place names which I could track and plot for myself.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book I read, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This story definitely had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next. I was taken to a place I didn’t want to be, with people I didn’t want to be with and I was only to happy to make my escape relatively unscathed.