Fresh Blood

Name: Rebecca Griffiths

Title of Book: The Primrose Path

'...the best book so far of 2016. '

As a teenager, Sarah D'Villez famously escaped a man who abducted and held her hostage for eleven days. The case became notorious, with Sarah's face splashed across the front of every newspaper in the country.

Now, seventeen years later, that man is about to be released from prison. Fearful of the media storm that is sure to follow, Sarah decides to flee to rural Wales under a new identity, telling nobody where she's gone.

Settling into the small community she is now part of, Sarah soon realises that someone is watching her. Someone who seems to know everything about her.

The book starts with a young girl detailing the horrors of her childhood, giving the names of her abusers.

Fast forward fifty years and Rachel has moved to a small village in Wales, changed her name and identity to escape her troubled past. Upon settling in the village she becomes friendly with some of the locals. Dai, an elderly man who once knew the young girl who once lived in Rachel's home and Tracy, who despite becoming close, Rachel feels she still cannot trust her with the secrets of her previous life. Then there is her neighbour, Idris who lives in a ramshackle, filthy hovel. He is a hulking beast of a man who takes what he wants, is angry and violent and has taken a shine to Rachel.

Rachel was close to her father, but since his death and the upcoming release of her abductor felt she had nothing to stay for in England. Her mother is a cold, unforgiving woman and Rachel felt closer to the housekeeper, Mrs Pepper. Mother and daughter are so distant that Rachel doesn't inform her where she has moved to - and yet Rachel doesn’t know her mother is now desperate to contact Rachel after finding some disturbing items in her late husband's room.

With the backdrop painted, the author moves on to create further suspense with the murder of a young girl in a town that many of the main characters have a connection to. Griffiths manages to subtly drop hints, and at times, red herrings, as to who is responsible for the killing, leaving an air of mystery. Add to this the mystery of what happened to the young girl from the start of the book? What did Rachel's mother find in the bedroom? Who is the killer? Will Idris hurt Rachel or will he turn out to be her saviour?

Griffiths adds enticing layer upon layer on her story, building up each character. I tried to guess each person's motive and their opportunity and then just as you think you've worked it out, you're wrong! Be prepared for an unexpected ending. I was hooked from page one and downed this book in one lip-smacking, thirst-quenching gulp! For me, ‘The Primrose Path’ is the best book so far of 2016.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) Your debut, ‘The Primrose Path’ opens in quite a shocking way. Did you intend to shock your reader from the very start?
I didn’t set out to shock; although I can appreciate how the opening could well cause this reaction. My intention was to evoke strong emotions, to move the reader, in the hope of ensuring an immediate empathy with Beth. Of course the opening needed to grab the attention to keep people reading, but Beth’s story is one that evolved from my own childhood experiences. Although not sexually abused, I understand what it feels like to be unsafe at home, and to live in a state of perpetual fear as she did.
2) You place Sarah/Rachel in a very bleak, isolated area in Wales. Why did you choose such a location for your novel?
In my imagination an isolated setting harbours endless potential for menace; isolation is also conducive to creating mood and atmosphere, which I hope the book delivers. For me, the landscape and weather are personalities in their own right, and living as I now do, amongst rolling hills, under ever-changing skies, at the mercy of the elements, I can’t help but be deeply affected by them. Growing up in a tight-knit rural location between the ages of twelve, until finally leaving home at seventeen, showed me that small communities — such as fictitious the setting for this book — are notoriously suspicious of incomers, and an incomer like Sarah/Rachel was going to stand out and stir up far more trouble than if she had been placed in a built-up area. And I liked that idea; it made me want to explore it.
3) I was struck by your characterisation, especially with Sarah/Rachel’s repulsive neighbour. Do you feel building a character is as important as plot?
Very much so. As a reader and a writer, the creation of well-drawn, believable characters is as important, if not more important, than the plot. In my opinion characters drive the story, as it is the minutia of people’s existences: what goes on behind closed doors and inside heads; that is of principal interest, and in their reveal, often the most disturbing.

Idris Tudor is complex. Yes, he is repulsive and his habits unsavoury, but he is only a product of his upbringing and the family he was born into. But, like many oddities we read about, Idris is so much more than this, and I hope readers find they can empathise with him a little, and are not simply disgusted by him.
4) Your book touches on the subject of parents and children, in particular when recalling the relationship Sarah had with her father and how her mother was always so distant from both. Do you feel that even now there is more to be explored in the family dynamic?
Quite possibly, but I needed to be careful not to over-egg and keep an eye on moving the story forward. So much of what is dealt with in this book, certainly as far as Sarah/Rachel goes, is her reflecting back on her family and her relationship with her ex-husband and estranged daughter, and I was conscious I needed to create some current action for her too. Certainly in my future books, the family dynamic will no doubt feature again. There will always be plenty to discover, and as each character invariably brings news dimensions to a story, there will always be new avenues for me to expand and explore.
5) What do you think of the new renaissance of ‘Domestic Noir’? Is your next novel in the same vein?
As far as I’m concerned, the new renaissance of ‘Domestic Noir’ is very welcome. Reading and studying the works of Shakespeare, Mantel, Zola, Maupassant, Dickens, du Maurier, Fowles, McEwan (to name but a few), with their overriding preoccupation with the smallness of things, ie. the exploration of hazardous human dynamics and the dark underbelly of familial interaction … Domestic Noir, to give it its new title, is a genre I have always been drawn to.

It is certainly a driving force for my own writing and yes, my next book is very much set in this exciting genre. Because perhaps never more so than now, with the gloss of media-driven celebrity culture and bombardment of social media sites, in a world where one only wants to display the very best of oneself, positioned within a perfectly blissful domestic sphere: best photographs, best holiday pictures, best home, best and most beautiful children … when we all know the truth is that people are struggling, depression is on the increase, life is perhaps harder than it has ever been, and the pressure to coat the cracks in a thick shiny varnish is taking its toll on us.

The theme is certainly one that fascinates me. Growing up with parents who were well-respected secondary school teachers and supposed pillars of the community, I know all too well the sinister and dangerous implications that are attached to projecting one face to the outside world, and another to dependents within a family who, because they are too afraid to do otherwise, too afraid they won’t be believed, never speak of the abuse and cruelty they suffer to anyone outside the home. However, as I am now able to detach myself from the horrors of my childhood, it is useful material that, adapted and moulded and coupled with all the other experiences I have had lived through, is sure to sustain me for the rest of my writing career. Fiction may be fictitious, but to make it conceivable you have to draw on real experiences.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, what are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and would wish to have on a deserted island?
As a reader, first and foremost, I am a fan of all fiction. If the writing is good with convincing characters and a credible plot, it will be a book I want to read. Above all else, what makes me pick up a novel is the quality of the writing along with the believability of the characters and the settings in which they are placed. Fiction, strangely, has to be more real than real life; it has to construct a situation you could imagine yourself being in, and is therefore what makes reading about it all the more terrifying.

So, to answer this almost impossible question, my top three novels (although they may be more thriller than crime, perhaps) would have to be: John Fowles – ‘The Collector’; Ruth Rendell – ‘The Keys to the Street’; Laura Lippman - ‘What the Dead Know’ … and Daphne du Maurier’s, ‘The Scapegoat’, it gives me shivers just thinking about it. Sorry, but I had to sneak that fourth one in!