The rest of the story is seen through the eyes of Rebecca Thorne, co-host of a television current affairs show which is suffering from a drop in ratings. Rebecca is looking for a weighty story she can sink her teeth into and which will allow her to return to the ‘proper’ journalism she feels the show has been letting slide. Her brother, a Member of Parliament, suggests she look into the case of Connor Bligh. He is Katy Dickson’s uncle and was convicted of the murders of his sister Angela, her husband and their son, partly based on Katy’s evidence at trial. But there are some who believe he is an innocent man, convicted largely on circumstantial evidence and the fact that he did not present as ‘normal’ to many of the people who knew him. Rebecca becomes intrigued by the notion that he might be innocent and that she might be able to play a role in freeing him.
TRACES OF RED is, I think, Rebecca Thorne’s version of the Connor Bligh story rather than simply the Connor Bligh story and the distinction gives the novel more depth than the standard ‘wrongly accused man’ tale might offer. Rebecca’s motivations for becoming focused on the story play a significant part in her approach and methods for dealing with the things she learns as she investigates the case and interviews people who have known Connor. We do eventually ‘meet’ Connor but it is relatively late in the novel and then only via his letters to Rebecca and her discussions with so we don’t quite see anything directly through his eyes.
Because she carries so much of the book Rebecca has to be interesting and Richardson has delivered on that front. Indeed I have to give the author extra kudos for making me invest in the character because I did not really warm to her. Although she acknowledges the luck of having had the kind of loving family and financial security that Connor Bligh missed out on, Rebecca is fairly self-indulgent and morally questionable. She has been having a long term affair with a married man and the depiction of this relationship and all its emotional emptiness is well done, forcing me to grudgingly develop some sympathy for Rebecca even while I disapproved of some of the choices she made. She might not be likable but I thought her a well-drawn and highly believable character.
Connor Bligh is harder to get a feeling for though I think this is deliberate. We are not meant to be ever sure whether or not he is innocent and so there is always at least two ways to interpret the things he chooses to reveal about his past which includes an impoverished childhood full of neglect and bullying and an adulthood in which he has often been misunderstood or resented due to his intelligence and social awkwardness. The picture he reveals of his relationship with his sister is another credible aspect of the novel even though it has its uncomfortable moments.
The novel’s depiction of the modern media and an increasingly uneasy relationship between media and the law is another thought-provoking element of this novel. I don’t know if Richardson used any real New Zealand cases as inspiration for the events depicted in TRACES OF RED but I can certainly think of Australian cases which share some similarities. Cases where the media’s portrayal of a person plays far more of a role in how that person’s guilt or innocence is perceived and, sometimes, even formally resolved than do the facts of a case. Richardson handled this aspect of the novel realistically and used it as the basis for a story in which different interpretations could be assigned to each event or discussion and the reader was kept guessing as to which truths would turn out to be important.
Like HUNTING BLIND, which I read earlier this year, TRACES OF RED is an above average novel of psychological suspense. It doesn’t just tackle the question of one man’s guilt but explores how difficult it can be for the truth to be known and how people’s own experiences and biases play into their willingness to believe in a narrative that is presented to them. Jolly good reading.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Penguin 
Length 322 pages
Book Series standalone
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