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Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

(Piatkus Fiction, $37.99)

It’s not easy to marry a murder mystery with the supernatural. Combined with extra-marital affairs, domestic abuse, and a narrator who is medically braindead, even the barest of storylines appears chaotic. Thankfully, Rosamund Lupton manages superbly.

Afterwards is a gripping novel. To say the book requires suspension of disbelief is an understatement, but Rosamund’s domestic setting brings validity to the unbelievable.

The story begins with main protagonist, Grace, in hospital. oedically comatose, her soul leaves her body and is joined by the spirit of her daughter Jennifer, who is also clinging to life. Together they embark on a quest to uncover the suspicious circumstances surrounding the school fire responsible for both women’s condition. As they uncover secrets hidden in the lives of the community around them, Grace begins a race against time to stop a malevolent figure intent on destroying her family.

Rosamund’s experience as a mother-of-two shines through in the voice of Grace, who is a compelling and convincing character. The entire novel is intimately addressed from Grace to her husband Mike in the second person.

This makes for a husband-wife relationship so strong that at times it felt like the reader was intruding upon a private conversation.

Characters in Afterwards are all given a life of their own, and no assumption is left unturned. The best novels communicate extraordinary themes through ordinary settings, and although Grace’s immense sacrifice at the book’s conclusion is entirely impossible, it is also very moving.

Fans of Rosamund’s previous book, Sister, will no doubt enjoy this latest novel, which has already featured in the British Sunday Times Bestseller List.

At 450 pages Afterwards is quite a substantial book to get through, but the absorbing storyline will have you up till the small hours. It’s a book you’ll want discuss with friends and think about for days to come.

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