As the book opens we meet high school student Serena Freeman. Just another bloody Freeman. The youngest of the brood of always-in-trouble kids whose mother is the object of much derision in their small New Zealand town. But Serena is clever. There is hope that she will avoid the family curse. Then she encounters her own kind of trouble. Then she disappears.
Richardson draws the reader into this novel with a sympathetic but not sentimental introduction of Serena Freeman as the sort of character who demands attention. Struggling to overcome the odds, yearning to believe she has a chance – that the belief her older sister and Miss (one of her teachers) show in her is well-founded – not, at first, understanding the implications of the man who stops to talk to her sometimes.
But Serena is not the only star of the novel. There is Miss – Ilsa Klein – a teacher of Serena’s who fled East Germany with her parents when she was only 10. She lives with her now somewhat elderly mother who is tormented by her past with the Stasi. Richardson slowly and deliberately allows the reader to learn the reasons behind this torment and the impact the memories have on Gerda’s behaviour in the present day. And Lynnie, Serena’s older sister who has escaped the curse of the Freeman name in her own way, is also well-drawn: displaying a very realistic mix of guilt, determination and sibling love.
The narrative structure and story arc of SWIMMING IN THE DARK are both superb. Keeping the reader guessing but completely engaged at the same time.
Any other point I’d like to make would constitute too much of a spoiler so I shall so no more. Except that I am still pondering this novel many days after finishing it and I shall be recommending it widely. It’s not just for crime fans.
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If think you are likely to read this book I’d avoid reading too much about it as many sites – most notably the book’s Good Reads page (the blurb for which I assume comes from one of the editions of the book, happily not mine) – give away far more of the plot than they ought to. Tsk tsk.
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Publisher Pan Macmillan 
Length 287 pages
Book Series standalone
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