Coronation Day, 1953.
In the Somerset village of Sawbridge, young shopkeeper Molly Heywood slips away from the celebrations to her friend's cottage and makes a shocking discovery: Cassie is dead and her six-year-old daughter Petal has vanished without a trace.
In her grief, Molly seeks help from her childhood friend George, now the village policeman, but no one can find Petal. The only clue is a letter from London, where Cassie once lived. Despite George's reluctance and her growing feelings for him, Molly resolves to go to London in the hope of discovering the missing child.
Arriving in the big city, Molly quickly learns it's a dangerous place for a country girl on her own. But there's hope too - in the Blitz-ruined East End, she unexpectedly finds friendship with strangers from Cassie's past and, with handsome, mysterious workman Charley, the possibility of something more.
However, the closer Molly gets to the truth, the more perilous her journey becomes. She has given up everything - her home, happiness and a chance at love - all to find Petal. But is she also risking her life?
Hands down Lesley Pearse is my favourite author ever. I own everything she has written and as soon as I finish her latest release I am left bereft wondering how on earth can I wait a year for my next fix? Lesley is an author you can trust to take you away from the stresses and strains of everyday life and provide you with a spellbinding tale that leaves you captivated for several hours. Without a Trace is amazingly Lesley's 23rd novel which is testament to what a spectacular author she is and the loyal fan base she has earned who like me are eager for any new writing from this wonderful author. If you are new to this author's work with this new release oh how I envy you. For you do not know what brilliant stories you will discover between the pages of all her back catalogue. I say back catalogue because once you have read Without a Trace you will be hooked and just want to read more.
Right from the opening chapter set on a wet Coronation Day in 1953, the pace of this book does not let up as we read of one girls search to expose the facts behind the death of her best friend. In the Somerset village of Sawbridge Molly Heywood is busy organising a street party to celebrate the Queen's arrival to the throne. Bad weather forces the party inside but that is not what worries Molly. Her best friend Cassie March and her daughter Petal have failed to show up for the celebrations. Molly is distressed and cycles to Cassie's isolated cottage only to discover everyone's worst nightmare. Petal is missing and Cassie has been left dead in the sitting room. So begins a journey that will take Molly to London, Rye and full circle until she finds the answers to many questions. Disillusioned with the police's effort to locate Cassie's killer, Molly finds a letter tucked away in a book from a woman called Constance in London. This provides Molly with the perfect excuse to break free from the severe constraints placed upon such a young woman.
Molly is the daughter of a local shop owner, forced to work for mere pocket money, she has been under her father's thumb from an early age. Her sister Emily left when she could not take the put downs and offensiveness any longer and so Molly and her mother face daily verbal and physical abuse while attempting to maintain a brave front to the people of the village. Obviously associating with Cassie did nothing to help Molly's situation with her overpowering father. Cassie was seen as an outsider for having a mixed race child and for the range of men she has apparently on the go at any one time. The villagers showed their prejudice towards Cassie but Molly senses a kindred spirit in her. They both have been through so much and forge a deep friendship. Throughout the book the author does an excellent job of building up an overall picture of Cassie. We never get to meet her but I felt as if I knew her just as well as Molly through her diary entries and from the people who had become friends with her. Yes her death was an awful tragic event but Molly's journey to find Petal and the real reason behind the murder is one of revelations, growth and discovery. This would never have begun had Cassie survived and awful though it may be the compulsion Molly feels would lay dormant only for shocking discovery she had made. This journey will ultimately lead her to becoming a changed person all for the better.
It was evident Molly needed to make the break from her father and become independent even if it had to be under such tragic circumstances. She leaves behind her mother and local PC George Walsh who had been her ally and hopefully will continue to be so in the future. The book takes on even more of a leap in the pace when Molly reaches London as she meets Constance and is employed in her first job. I literally couldn't put the book down as I was reading as fast as I could desperate to know what each turn of the page would bring. What I liked the most about this book was it was not solely focused on uncovering the killer equally as enthralling were the changes we see Molly go through as she realises London is not all it is cracked up to be and we can not all fall on our feet and expect everything to work out perfectly immediately. The transformation of Molly is well written, I loved her courage and tenacity and unwillingness to give up with her search for Cassie or for her own ambitions and dreams to be fulfilled. We see her blossom before our very eyes all innocence and trust is forgotten as she finds her way in the world to the place where she is meant to be. I was with her every step of the way, angry at some events that transpire in London and elated as she may be finding love but all the time rooting for a happy ending both for her and for Petal.
This is really a just one more chapter kind of book, my eyes were closing as I read late into the night but I had to find out what happened to Cassie and would Petal be discovered either alive or dead. There was so much happening and lots that I never saw coming at all. I like to be kept guessing as to the outcome of a story and Lesley dropped a few hints but when the reveal came I was sat there open mouthed with how cleverly and unexpectedly everything came into play. It was nail biting stuff as the tangled web began to unravel. Even right up to the last few pages Lesley packed in as much as she possibly could and my emotions went from happiness, to anger and sadness and back again. Really a kaleidoscope of feelings that only reaffirmed for me what an amazing author Lesley Pearse truly is. With a wide ranging cast of supporting characters that all added that special something this book has all the ingredients you need for a blissful few hours spent lost in the world of Molly as we see her transform from a meek young girl to an empowered woman through her daring, ambitious, valiant efforts. With this new book Lesley Pearse has proven she can turn her hand to a wide range of subjects and deal with each in a unique and epic way.
For me Lesley Pearse is the queen of the compelling story that has you emotionally invested in the characters right from the beginning. You really feel as if you are there alongside Molly as she battles through life to find her happy ending and to uncover the truth surrounding Cassie's death. This is a novel of mystery, romance and also of a journey. We see Molly's full transformation from a young girl longing for independence but yet unwillingly to break free from her father's grip for the sake of her mother's suffering to a strong woman who through sheer self determination achieves her fulfilment for herself and justice for her friend. Without a Trace is simply an unmissable book, chock full of depth and emotion that only this author can achieve, I loved every minute of the stunning story and all it's twists and turns. This should be on every person's summer holiday reading list this year a guaranteed exciting, engaging read that you will gain many new fans for Lesley and will leave old fans deeply satisfied.
Many thanks to Sophie Goodfellow from ED PR for sending me a copy of this to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.