Book Review – THE START OF EVERYTHING by Emily Winslow

The Start of Everything Emily WinslowIn this stunning psychological thriller for readers of Tana French, Kate Atkinson, and Donna Tartt, Emily Winslow has crafted a literary prism told through the eyes of her many intricately drawn characters. Masterly and mesmerizing, The Start of Everything will captivate until the very last page.

The Start of Everything Synopsis:

“If you don’t want to see me again, say so. But it’s not right to say nothing. It’s not right to go silent. You know what to do.”

Cambridge, England: Outside the city, the badly decomposed body of a teenage girl has washed up in the flooded fens. Detective Inspector Chloe Frohmann and her partner, Morris Keene, must work quickly to identify the victim before the press takes off with the salacious story. Across the hallowed paths and storied squares of Cambridge University, the detectives follow scant clues toward the identity of the dead girl. Eventually, their search leads them to Deeping House, an imposing country manor where, over the course of one Christmas holiday, three families, two nannies, and one young writer were snowed in together. Chloe Frohmann begins to unravel a tangled web of passions and secrets, of long-buried crimes and freshly committed horrors. But in order to reveal the truth–about misaddressed letters, a devastating affair, and a murdered teenager — she may have to betray her partner.

(The Book Depository)

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Emily Winslow opens The Start of Everything through the eyes of an intriguing character, a young woman named Mathilde Oliver. It quickly becomes apparent that Mathilde has some form of autism, given her hypersensitivity to the people and objects around her. This viewpoint is utterly captivating and before you realise it, this book becomes impossible to put down.

Mathilde Oliver:

Back in the present, the chapel organ blasted a chord. My bag fell over and spilled my notebook out. The apple used it as a slide.

The organ blew louder and louder. I grabbed up my things and ran at the glass doors, sliding on the patterned tiles. I pushed through into the courtyard. The grass faintly glowed, the way aggressively living things do.

The Start of Everything is one of those uncommon novels that cannot be easily characterised as either character driven or plot driven. Emily Winslow’s character development is some of the strongest I have seen and the alternating narrative structure is what propels the story’s telling. The plot and story framework is also very strong and multi-layered. The crimes being investigated by Detective Inspector Chloe Frohmann and her partner, Morris Keene have historical linkages and the motives of those involved complex.

Chloe Frohmann:

The building that houses Major Investigations is unlabelled, just another bland office-park rectangle weighing down the hem of a village. Inside, desks and testosterone take up all the room. I work my way around both and take off my coat.

Winslow does not shy away from brutal subject matter or allow sentimentality in respect to her characters get in the way of the story’s development. On more than one occasion I was blind-sided by the events that unfolded… a sure sign of a talented author.

The rawness and honesty of each of the different characters’ viewpoints in The Start of Everything gives readers an opportunity to identify with each and every one.

We are all guilty of something and the line between acceptability and criminal or societal guilt is a fine one. An integral element of the mystery in this novel relates to challenges each of the characters face in their personal lives and their journeys of self-discovery. The city of Cambridge, and in particular its architecture, is evocatively described and is of itself a key character with an important role to play.

Despite the complexity of its plot and uncommon depth in character development, Emily Winslow has somehow maintained an appealing lightness and accessibility to the novel’s text. Changes in narrative viewpoints are clearly marked with the character names signposted as chapter headings, and each character’s voice is sufficiently distinctive that I felt little need to refer to them anyway. I marvel at how much depth and meaning Winslow has imbued into only 272 pages without the book feeling heavy.

The Start of Everything by Emily Winslow has the artistry of literature, the grittiness of a best-selling crime thriller, the complexity of an academic puzzle and characters you will not easily forget. I look forward to reading anything this author publishes in the future.

UPDATE: We have since enjoyed the next title published in this psychological crime series The Red House (Book 3) and Emily Winslow’s candid memoir Jane Doe January – My Twenty-Year Search for Truth and JusticeAm also pleased to report that Book 4 in this series, Look for Her will be released in October 2017.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

Get your copy from:
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Genre: Crime-Detective, Mystery, Thriller, Literature, Drama

About the Author, Emily Winslow

Emily Winslow is an American living in England. Her debut novel, The Whole World was set in Cambridge, as is her most recent title The Start of Everything. Her training as an actress at Carnegie Mellon’s elite drama conservatory is put to use in her multiple first-person narrators, and her years designing puzzles for “Games” magazine inform her playful, complex plot structures. She and her husband live in Cambridge with their two sons, in a house full of books.

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* Receiving this title free from Allison & Busby via The Book Depository did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions in the review above.