In Laura Powell’s The Unforgotten, a flock of reporters descends on the Eden Hotel in the Cornish village of St. Steele after a second young woman is murdered by a brutal killer. Fifteen-year-old Betty Broadbent lives there with her mother, Delores, the hotel manager. Hotel is rather grand, it’s more of an inn, with the two of them doing most of the work. Betty’s mother clearly suffers from a dramatic, rapidly cycling bipolar disorder that sometimes leaves Betty picking up all the slack and which has made her mature for her age. She befriends John Gallegher, one of the reporters, a son of privilege who is resented by the other reporters. He’s tall, dark, and handsome and Betty falls hard. But then so does he, and she’s underage.
As more murders accumulate, opinion focuses on the local butcher, though Betty is certain he is innocent. She saw how he acted with her mother when Delores was clearly in a mental crisis and thinks he is too gentle to be the killer. In time, she is certain she knows who the killer is, but can she tell and if she does, will people believe her?
Meanwhile, the story jumps ahead fifty years into the future when the so-called Cornish Cleaver gives an interview in the press. Mary, a woman who is facing a crisis in her own life is shattered by the news.
While identifying the murderer is critical to the story of The Unforgotten, the story is not about collecting clues and making deductions. This is a story about relationships, obligations, love, and guilt. No one really solves the murder, though the identity is revealed in a devastating way. The revelation is fair, though, and makes sense, even though it may be surprising to many readers. What is more shocking, though, are the decisions people make out of love, decisions that are morally wrong. Does love justify what they do?
We are asked to believe that a grand moral sacrifice was made for love, but the decision is made on someone’s behalf without letting them weigh in. The author sees it as proof of love, I saw it as cowardice. This book made me angry, but that speaks to its power. I think the decisions are so wrong, not romantic at all, but Laura Powell sure made me care.
I received an e-galley of The Unforgotten from the publisher through NetGalley.