Click here to read reviewer Steven Rosen's take on The Start of Everything.
There is a sense with many crime novels that writers are too concerned with the creaky machinations of their plots.
We can just imagine exasperated editors yelling at them to build up the private lives of their characters, whom they see as too underdeveloped. Winslow would never need such a reminder. While not one of the most fluid of writers, her forte is to totally involve us with her characters and their prodigious problems.
Alternating her narrative in first-person voices that move back and forth in time, Winslow introduces us to two flawed, insecure detectives: Chloe Frohmann and DCI Morris Keene. As The Start of Everything opens, Keene has just been released from hospital, still recovering from injuries sustained in a terrifying car accident. On his first day back on the job, he has to help Chloe solve the identity of a decomposing body that was caught in a fen sluice gate leading into the Norfolk marshes.
Chloe is perplexed; she hates to be distracted from a bigger case, such as a suicide or an accident, but the fen girl remains anonymous. Needing an identity fast, the
detectives follow the trail north toward Peterborough, but not before Winslow establishes a number of characters in Cambridge who will play a pivotal role in the unfolding mystery. In one of the oldest colleges, shaped around courtyards and entered through a series of formidable stone gateways, Mathilde Oliver learns that her father, Tobias, is in hospital after suffering a heart attack.
The news intersects with Mathilde’s fanatical search for a girl called Katja, the recipient of a series of letters from someone called Stephen.
When Mathilde reads in the newspaper that Katja had long blonde hair like the dead girl in the fens, she pictures Katja in a red sweater, convinced that the girl was gaping at her from the open air on Kitchen Bridge. Meanwhile, Morris Keene
follows the trail of Grace Rhys. Like Katja, she had a holiday job working as a nanny at Deeping House near Peterborough. An “aggrandized box” that has been chopped up into flats, the House is managed by Ian Bennet and his wife, Hilary. Through the course of the investigation, Morris and Chloe are made aware that Deeping is a hot-bed of assignations, especially when they learn that a fellow tenant complained of “sexual noises."
Someone is prowling in the shadows. Chloe is aware of this presence, as is Mathilde, who seems so afraid and is unsure of the illness or condition she's convinced is infecting her.
While Morris seeks to discover the truth over the makeup of Deeping House--and the notion that either Grace or Katja may have been involved in some kind of furtive tryst centering
on spoiled wives and a shady stepfather--another character by the name of George
Hart-Fraser lends his voice. George worked closely with Tobias Oliver and was Grace’s supervisor.
For Chloe and Morris, George is nothing more than a successful smooth talker who might know the whereabouts of Grace.
Central to the novel is the mystery of the body, but also crucial is the interplay between appearance and reality. Good and evil play a large part, too, as Chloe and Morris desperately try to comprehend the hidden nature of Cambridge and Deeping House, and the spirits
of Katja and Grace, who seem to watch their every move. As in any good story, all of the characters have unique voices, but Winslow's characters have such fascinating internal voices that we can’t help but be impressed by the intricate and intimate details of what goes on inside their heads.
In this difficult and abstract novel, readers must pay close attention to the clues. Winslow incorporates her experience designing logic puzzles as her characters do battle with the dark soul of sexual abuse, mental instability, and sibling jealousy. The setting is second to none, the beautiful city of Cambridge a lovely backdrop to Chloe and Morris's
comprehension of its sudden malevolence and their own misconceptions as to the nature of the crime.