Crime thriller novels about intense, passionate, obsessive relationships are not uncommon. But novels about these relationships being shared in a familial context, between a mother and a daughter, are less common. She Chose Me is a recently published crime thriller set mostly in London, featuring a dual narrative shared by two characters who are equally intriguing and repelling.
She Chose Me is the first novel by Tracey Emerson, a writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from our very own University of Edinburgh. With a background in writing short stories and theatre, Emerson’s writing style is straightforward, which is helpful in a novel with an otherwise complex structure. Not until about the fifth chapter does the dual narrative of the novel really begin to make sense, but it is nonetheless worth sticking with this engrossing story.
The two main characters are both female, which is refreshing, and furthermore, any romance is only a side note of the main storyline. Primarily, there is Grace, a middle-aged woman who has recently returned to London to care for her dying mother after spending years abroad. Grace’s chapters are slightly dull; they detail her mundane daily life, centring around her going to work, coming home for a glass of wine, and a peppering of visits to her mother in a hospice. These chapters are accompanied by the more gripping chapters written from Cassie’s perspective. Cassie is a wealthy but lonely young woman facing a mental health crisis following the death of her adopted mother. Emerson is excellent at the writers’ staple ‘show don’t tell,’ with nothing explicitly spelt out to the reader almost until the very end.
Emerson has said that she tries to link her writing to her everyday life, saying, “in any scene, I can usually find some aspect of my own experience to use as a jumping off point or as a character motivation or to provide setting and background.” However, in a twisted and upsetting crime thriller novel to which you can only hope her life does not relate, her own experiences come through in ways which read as cringey. She stipulates that Grace likes an Earl Grey tea or a Shiraz wine, and these details feel projected into the writing in order to provide setting – a setting which is provided perfectly well without these overly-specific aspects.
However, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and at a time when violence against women in crime thrillers is being called out, She Chose Me is an excellent reminder of how crime literature can be totally gripping without resorting to tropes of violence. Grace and Cassie perform an elaborate dance around each other, keeping each other on edge as much as the reader. What’s more, the lack of a male voice or overly important male role in the novel is almost as thrilling as the unravelling plot itself.
She Chose Me is a compelling and moving read, as well as a very easy read. It stays with you long after you’ve put it down. And as a plus, it is a complete contrast to your course readings (unless you study mother-daughter stalker literature – and if you do, I’m so sorry).
She Chose Me by Tracey Emerson
Legend Press (2018)
Image: Legend Press.