Book Review – Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way

Pages: 309
Published: 27th June 2019
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Trigger warnings: Child death, sexual references, homophobia

Over thirty years ago Vivienne’s pregnant sister Ruby was murdered by her boyfriend Jack. It was an open and shut case, as Vivienne heard him commit the crime and the evidence of other witnesses placed Jack at the scene.

Vivienne still has awful nightmares where she relives the incident, but  cannot remember everything about that day.

But now a man lies dead on the blood-soaked floor. Soon the police will come, and they’ll want answers.

Perhaps they’ll believe the family’s version of events – that this man is a murderer who deserved to die.

This is the kind of thriller which you can read in the blink of an eye with its fast-paced narrative and reasonably intense plot, but also one that asks you to suspend your disbelief once too often. Despite all the revelations it contains and the irresistible pull of a mystery with multiple suspects, it becomes more frustrating the further you get, as a result of some far-fetched ideas and the irrational actions of certain characters.

The concept involves what turns out to be a very effective portrayal of dissociative amnesia, which is seen every so often in thrillers but can occasionally hold the story back. Indeed, the beginning and the end were both hugely impressive, in terms of the build-up and then how it was all resolved, though sadly a lot of what happens in between felt rather erratic.

It is now thirty-two years since Vivienne’s sister Ruby was murdered along with her unborn baby. Only eight years old at the time, was in the house when it happened, and it was primarily her evidence that led to Ruby’s boyfriend Jack being convicted. She has little memory of the day in question, and Jack has always claimed to be innocent.

After a childhood living alongside her mother in shared accommodation, Vivienne now runs a café and has a teenage daughter called Cleo, a shy and conscientious child who has been exchanging messages with a boy she met online. She still has severe nightmares about the day Ruby was killed and lingering doubts in her mind about what she saw.

Vivienne begins a relationship with Alek, a doctor and a regular customer at her café. She eventually invites him round to meet her mother Stella and best friend Samar one evening, but after tension breaks out and Vivienne starts to feel unwell, she is powerless to prevent Cleo from walking into a trap. When she wakes up, her daughter is gone and she is convinced she knows who has taken her.

The plot starts off well, even if certain things are predictable and lack subtlety. The prologue is short but sufficiently intriguing to create a strong sense of build-up, and when Cleo goes missing, there are a lot of carefully planted red herrings and that keeps you guessing throughout on who the perpetrator might be, making the story gripping in a way.

However, the way it ends up playing out just felt plainly wrong and I disagreed with the direction that the author chose to take with it. Some of the decisions that Vivienne made to try and find Cleo made absolutely no sense and were based on very flawed logic, which was exasperating to read. It was all just a bit chaotic and contrived.

There were some potential plot holes there too, such as with one of the two major twists that arrive shortly before the end. I had to read the odd section again, just to make sure I had not missed an important detail in the timeline before, and the jury was still out. By contrast, the other twist was much more effective and led to a mostly satisfactory ending.

The entire book is written in the third person, from the perspectives of Vivienne and Cleo. They were both well developed characters with Cleo especially likeable, albeit impressionable. Vivienne is strong in one sense having rebuilt her life from the trauma she suffered as a child, yet also hugely frustrating at times.

In addition to them, there are numerous supporting characters. The most interesting and complex of those are Stella and Alek, who are both hiding secrets. There is a lot to Stella in the way she is described and the way she reacts to other people, while Alek is someone who you never feel like you really know.

As for the rest, Shaun and Neil are awful and unpleasant in different ways but share a toxic sense of entitlement. Samar is a fun personality and it also would have been nice to see more of Cleo’s friend Lara, who has very strong principles. Then there is a sub-plot from the past involving Margo and a host of others, which at least added some extra depth to the story.

Amid all the frantic goings-on in the plot, there are many different strands to this book and a lot of thought clearly went into it, with elements such as the EMDR therapy and characters being given relatively detailed backstories. The writing was full of urgency and had all the tension that comes with a race against time, although the dialogue often left something to be desired.

Overall, there are definitely some good things to found along the way, but the overriding problem with this story is that the end failed to justify the means. So much of what happened during the middle section was eyeroll inducing and that took away some of the excitement and intrigue, which is a shame as the opening was good and the concept had real promise.

I have read two other books by Camilla Way before this one and have enjoyed them for their fast pace and frequent plot twists, but this time around the story did not quite hold up, so it turned into a bit of a disappointment.

My rating: ⭐⭐.5

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