Rachel Abbott's Only the Innocent is not your average who dunnit murder mystery. The question that drives this thriller is not who did it, but why”. Abbott carefully constructed a world of mystery, depravity, sex, violence, manipulation and intrigue on so many different levels that I can honestly say you truly have to read until the last page to understand and appreciate the complexity of the story.
Philanthropist Hugo Fletcher is known world wide for his charitable works rescuing Eastern-European prostitutes from their dark world and giving them a second chance with a new job and foster family. However, there is a darkness to him that the flashing bulbs of the cameras hide. When he is found dead in the middle of sexual act, it is up to Detective Chief Inspector Tom Douglas to uncover the truth behind Hugo's all too perfect public persona and unmask the vileness that was known to only those closest to him. It seems everyone who comes in contact with Hugo has a secret and it's Douglas' job to weave through the tangled web of deception and perversion to find the killer.
I was most impressed with how Abbott carefully fed each morsel of evidence to her readers. We learn just enough as the story moves along but never enough to put all the pieces together. And without giving away any spoilers, I will say that even when Abbott made me believe I had all the information, she packed in one last punch at the end. She tied up loose ends that I wasn't even aware were there.
As with all murder mysteries, the story before the death is always important and many authors struggle with what we call an info dump . No one wants to read, Well Johnny, it went like this then read an entire chapter recounting every single step that led to the incident. Abbott gets around this by having Imogen, friend and sister-in-law of Laura Fletcher, read old letters that Laura wrote to Imogen about her life with Hugo, but never sent. (A sort of therapeutic practice for Laura.) At first I had to question how Laura could realistically recount precisely every word in a conversation she had with Hugo and I feared that it would indeed just be chapters of the dreaded info dump . However, as the story progressed and Abbott started to rip away the story's complex layers, the letters became more realistic and heartbreaking in their content.
The complexity of the characters and the inner-workings of their relationships were entertaining. Almost every character had a motive for murder but it was through Laura that we learn what a real monster he was. I didn't always like Laura's character, but her weakness and drive to make her marriage to Hugo work made her story that more believable and interesting. The more I read about her life with him and what sort of man he was the more I understood why someone would kill him but even then the end-all reason knocked me back a few pegs. When everything was said and done I was left with the question that Abbott poses in her blurb, do you punish the guilty, or protect the innocent?
** Reviewer's Note: For my fellow American readers, this novel was written using British style of using single quotation marks for dialogue as well as not including full stops (periods) after titles such as, Mrs. and Mr. as we do in America. I was unaware of these differences and I just wanted to make sure you were aware before you pick the book up and think it's riddled with mistakes.