“Cross My Heart” by Helen Slavin (Simon and Schuster) – Novel Review

Cross My Heart Helen SlavinNine year old Grace, witness to an ongoing war of snark and snideness between her mother and grandmother, learns that telling a ‘true’ lie can get her out of trouble.  Her success lies in basing her untruth in truth and then fleshing it out slightly so it gains credibility.

In parallel to Grace’s story is Alec’s.  In a pub, remembering his favourite childhood TV show where the hero Fraser has a girlfriend called Grace, he witnesses a ‘domestic’.  Alec sees the woman home, complying with her request to check her flat’s empty before she goes in.  Later, she’s found murdered and witnesses place Alec at the scene.  Alec’s ex-girlfriend lies and makes Alec out to be violent, leaving the police little incentive to check out Alec’s description of the man the woman was actually with.  Being the 1970s, there’s no neat forensics to come to his rescue.

Dragged back home by her grandmother after a disastrous holiday, Grace witnesses another battle between mother and grandmother, this time with a fatal outcome.  Trapped – after all if the battle’s survivor goes to prison then Grace will go into care – Grace tells another lie.

Alec adjusts to prison life, learning some useful home maintenance and plumbing skills and picking up a degree.  He’s refused parole as Alec can’t bring himself to pretend remorse for a crime he didn’t commit.  Nearing the end of this sentence, he’s allowed to do some maintenance work for a vicar and his wife.

Meanwhile, a grown up Grace buys a house in need of repair, develops a side-line in knitting, runs a stall to sell sweaters and scarves and is seen as an easy target by the office sex pest, Hugo.  She dreams of a gentle man who is good at DIY.  When Hugo follows her home, she tells him she has a fiancé. 

When the vicar’s wife is taken to hospital, Alec manages to slip away.  He drifts towards the area where Grace lives.  Can he overcome his instincts for truth and fall in with Grace’s lie to protect them both?  Particularly when an overly-nosey neighbour accuses Grace of murdering her fiancé, police find freshly dug earth and blood-soaked tea towels and Grace’s earlier lie about that fatal argument between her mother and grandmother (both now passed on) could unravel her new life.

Alec is sympathetically realised as the good guy who’s out of his depth and pushed by circumstance into a situation of unintended consequence.  Grace’s world is sharply observed through a child’s eyes and credibly uses coping strategies a child would use. 

Helen Slavin draws her readers into the story as if being intrigued by the colour of someone’s knitting, then noticing and admiring the texture and detail of the knit and finally being compelled to keep watch until the garment is finished.  “Cross My Heart” shows a supple, skilled writer.

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