Paula is going to the beach with her daughter to walk the dog. She thought that she will be losing her daughter but later found her at the beach. Before she found her daughter, both she and a man saw a woman’s body on the beach. The woman was drowned in the sea and washed up on the beach. The woman’s name is Zena, and she was twenty-nine. Paula’s husband, Shaun, knew the woman when they were young. The woman and her partner bought a house as a weekend place just a few months ago. She went for a swim late afternoon on Monday and didn’t come back.
The story moves forward to three years later and focuses on Carmen. Carmen is happily married to Tom but still dislikes his ex-wife, Laura. They pick up the children from Laura’s house and drives to the beach at St. Jude. In the convenient store, Carmen sees a woman gossiping with the cashier, but they instantly stop whispering when they see her.
On the next day, she plans to meet her friend in London. While waiting for the train, she reads a newspaper about a man who killed his wife and his children. A teenage boy strikes a conversation with her and mentions that a woman was killed at St. Jude three years ago. The woman’s boyfriend made it look like an accident and able to get away from it, probably because he is a lawyer from London. The boy continues telling her that the man has a bungalow by the beach and still comes for weekends with his kids. He even mentions that the man has a new wife now and he warns the new wife needs to be careful. Carmen asks him whether he remembers the woman’s name, she walks away after he tells her the woman’s name is Zena. She remembers the name well. When she dated Tom two years ago, he told her about his ex-girlfriend and how she died. In fact, his ex-girlfriend was the one who had broken his marriage. Tom chose to left his ex-wife because of Zena.
Carmen still can’t forget Zena and wants to know more. She asks her friend, who knew Zena and also goes through Tom’s laptops. When she finds out some disturbing photos and website which contradict with the date and time of Zena’s death, Carmen begins to doubt Zena’s cause of death and determines to investigate further for the truth.
Well, that was one hell of a family and what a mess of Tom’s life. It seems every character in the story has a sad childhood and separated parents. I didn’t like the part when Carmen questioning Tom. Carmen keeps repeating “How awful!” and Tom keeps saying “Does it matters?”. I wish it can be better with variations of expressions instead of repetition of words. I feel the questioning part is brutally annoying, but I understand her intention is to make things clear from her mind. Then, I realised “how awful” and “why you didn’t tell me?” keeps repeating throughout the story.
As for the ending, it was an unusual one, but I loved it. I felt it’s a happy ending but probably not preferable for other readers. I already surrendered myself to another typical ending, but the author has a different one which I felt it was the best for all the characters in the story and also it’s the ending that I want.
I realised this is the author’s first book. I really enjoyed reading the story, and I found the book so gripping that I couldn’t put it down. I can’t wait to read her next book, but I hope she will improve her expressions and reduce the repetition of certain words.
More reviews can be found on Goodreads: Undertow by Elizabeth Heathcote.