When her mother dies, Bella returns home but is stunned when her father commits suicide on the day of the funeral and everyone assumes grief is the cause. However, Bella is even more shocked when his suicide note reveals she was abducted from her parents and her real name is Morveren Tremayne.
Overwhelmed by the truth, Bella leaves her husband to sort out her father’s affairs while she travels to Cornwall to find her real parents but she is reluctant to reveal her true identity as her mother is an invalid and her sister, Dawn, her sole carer. Shattered by the disappearance of her child more than twenty-five years ago, Alice Tremayne has withdrawn into her own world and Bella is having a hard time equating this shell of a woman with the vibrant mother she is beginning to remember. Once Bella plucks up the courage to tell the truth, dark secrets rise to the surface and she struggles with her own sense of identity.
In Her Wake is advertised as a tense psychological thriller but the claim is misleading because it is neither a thriller nor a psychological story and is downright dull in parts. The premise of the book was initially intriguing as we learn Bella’s whole life has been a lie since the people she thought were her parents, Henry and Elaine Campbell, had in fact abducted her while on holiday in France. Unfortunately, the similarities to the stories of Ben Needham and Madeleine McCann also make this uncomfortable reading as they are never far from your thoughts.
As the story unfolds, we get glimpses into Bella’s childhood, particularly the claustrophobic atmosphere created by her mother who insisted Bella be kept indoors and never allowed her to make friends. While Elaine’s behaviour initially seems down to her being an overprotective mother, the truth about Bella’s parentage reveals how Elaine was in constant fear of having her daughter taken away from her. Elaine is a very disagreeable character and I never felt one iota of sympathy for her as she constantly manipulates people by threatening to kill herself. Henry Campbell, a doctor, is equally despicable for enabling his wife’s behaviour and letting her get away with practically imprisoning Bella.
As a result, Bella grows up to become a timid woman who relies on others to make decisions for her and she eventually replaces her parents with a husband almost twice her age who continues the controlling behaviour. When Bella learns of her true parentage, the revelation is shocking enough to push her into behaving against type and she walks out on her husband. Armed with her father’s letter, Bella travels to St Ives in Cornwall to find her parents but chooses to hide behind the identity of her imaginary childhood friend, Tori, and claims to be a reporter looking to do a story on the abduction of Morveren Tremayne. For a while, Bella skirts around the issue of why she is really in Cornwall which would be fine if she was taking the opportunity to take control of her life but all she is doing his hiding behind another weak facade.
During her time in Cornwall, Bella begins to have hazy memories of her childhood but when she finally makes contact with her family, she is shocked to discover the toll her abduction has taken on them. Bella’s mother has withdrawn over the years into such a deep state of depression she is practically catatonic and stares at mermaid pictures on the wall all day long. Bella’s sister, Dawn, has become so trapped in the role of carer, life is passing her by and she is suspicious of everyone. Once Bella is able to convince Dawn she really is Morveren, she begs her sister to tell her about the abduction but Dawn is reluctant. Old resentments and painful secrets are soon revealed though, and Bella is stunned to learn her own father may be complicit.
As Bella gets reacquainted with her family, the story becomes increasingly repetitive and begins to lag as a result. The blurb hints the mystery around the abduction may put Bella’s life at risk but there is never any sense of threat unless you count Bella’s experiences with the sea. Realising her mother likes mermaids, Bella often reads her a Cornish myth about a mermaid called Morveren, whom Bella was named after, and the author injects a supernatural element when Bella seemingly comes into contact with the mermaid. So, not only does Bella have an imaginary friend who still talks to her as an adult, she also seems to be calling forth mermaids. While the imaginary friend angle is completely plausible when you realise her true identity, the mermaid element is more fanciful and rather out of place.
As stated, the idea of an abducted child returning home after so many years is certainly intriguing, however the whole thing was spoiled by the lack of engaging characters and the tragedies were laid on a little too thick to be plausible.