The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George
# 1 in the Whidbey Island Saga series
Audiobook: Narrated By Amy McFadden
With this book, Elizabeth George takes a step aside from her famous series of Inspector Lynley detective mysteries set in Britain, and enters into a rather different genre: Mystery for young adults, with a sprinkle of ‘paranormal’ on top. The story is also set in in the United States for a change; and more specifically Whidbey Island, Washington.
At the centre of the story we have a teenage girl with the (apparently inherited) ability to hear other people’s thoughts – or ‘whispers’, as she calls them. Not always enough to make out what it means: what she hears is more like what’s uppermost in someone’s mind, the things people keep saying to themselves (but not out loud, and not meant for others to hear).
As hearing everything that everyone is thinking is not always a blessing and can become rather tiresome, she is usually wearing a kind of reversed hearing aid device, providing her with a kind of white noise to help block out the thoughts coming from other people. When her stepfather finds out about her ability, he takes advantage of that for criminal purposes though; leading to a situation where the girl and her mother have to leave everything behind and flee from him, adapting new identities and names to make sure he does not find them. (All this is sketched rather briefly as background in the first chapter.)
Becca (as she now calls herself) is supposed to be staying for a while with an old friend of her mum’s, while the mother goes off to arrange a more permanent solution for them. Her mum puts her on the ferry to Whidbey Island, where the friend is supposed to meet her. However, no one is waiting for her; and when she tries to contact her mother on the cellphone, she gets no connection. So Becca is left entirely to her own devices when it comes to finding shelter and making friends in the new place.
One of the first people she makes acquaintance with is a boy or young man called Seth. He in turn puts her in contact with a woman named Debbie (with a somewhat obscure past), who runs a motel. She takes Becca in and lets her stay there in exchange for helping out a bit, in the motel and with looking after her grandchildren (of whom Debbie has the care).
There is also another woman in the story who remains an even bigger mystery, because Becca never manages to pick up any of her thoughts/whispers at all. Another friend she makes is the adopted son of the town's deputy sheriff. He’s also mysterious, because from him Becca can only pick up one peculiar word, which he keeps repeating to himself over and over like a mantra (but it does not make any sense to Becca). And yet with this boy she feels a bond that seems to go deeper than with anyone else. And when he ends up in hospital in a coma, the mystery deepens. (Or at least is supposed to…)
Some of the mysteries get sorted out before the end; but not all. Presumably, some things are left intentionally as cliffhangers to keep readers hoping to find the answer in the next book. So far, three more books in the series have been published, but I have not read those – yet. (Whether I ever will, remains to be seen. Maybe if I happen to find those too at bargain price…)
In an afterword, Elizabeth George seems to be making a point of explaining that except for one or two slight alterations to suit her purposes, the setting of this novel is the real Whidbey Island, with a lot of research put into getting the details right. I have to say that to me (never having been there) those details matter very little; and there are other inconsistencies to the story that bother me a lot more.
While it may be easy enough to “see” the characters, events and environment play out in my mind (as in a film), I find the plot to be weak; and what there is, seems to be hanging too much on the thin thread of Becca’s ability to listen in on people’s thoughts – something which in itself does not seem to be very well developed. Moreover, we occasionally get to see events from for example Seth’s point of view instead of Becca’s. I think the story might (possibly) have felt more convincing if the narrative perspective had been kept consistent throughout.
Other reviews I read (after I had finished the book) also point out other weaknesses in the plot. For example, that it seems unlikely that no one at the school would have enquired further into Becca’s background (for a parent or legal guardian, for example!) before accepting her as a student.
Had this been a story by a new author, I may have been less critical (and more curious to read more to see if the story improved). But knowing this to be written by an already famous author of mysteries, I find it a bit disappointing. (And at the same time I’m also aware that with the Lynley series too, she does have a certain tendency to leave loose ends behind for the next book…)
Having listened to this book mostly as audio book, I have to say that I enjoyed Amy McFadden’s narration, though. While I’m more used to listening to British English, I appreciated the American accent with this one (because of the book being set in the US).