When a fire destroys the Empress Theatre, a devastating tragedy unfolds. Amelia’s mother lost her piece of mind forever when she left her daughter alone for a few lifechanging moments. The dance school lost their beloved teacher, Hilary, who died saving the lives of her young pupils. Karin lost her memory, and the answers she desperately craves. Claudia lost the one thing that would have made her perfect life complete. As local reporter Leanne picks over the embers of that night, what seemed like a straightforward case of negligence becomes something else entirely: somebody is lying – each person has lost something, but one of them has sold their soul…
The book starts at the Empress Theatre in Sedgefield, Cheshire where a ballet production of Alice in Wonderland has just commenced. The performance is overseen by dance school teacher Hilary. Young Amelia is in attendance with her mum so she can watch her best friend Evie play the White Rabbit. When the alarm is raised, the theatre becomes chaotic and Amelia finds herself alone without her mother. Hilary tries to evacuate all of the members of her dance school to her own detriment. Karin was also at the theatre but remembers very little of what happened after losing her memory and Claudia another survivor lost something that can never be replaced.
Eleven months after the fire that destroyed the Empress Theatre, local reporter Leanne is asked to write an article to mark the anniversary of the fire. Will Leanne find out what caused the fire? Who was involved? Was there a motive behind the fire?
The story switches between the past and the present. In the past we learn more about the fire, the people who were present and what happened. In the present Leanne is trying to piece together from the information she has and what she learns by interviewing the survivors and members of the community what actually caused the fire and who was responsible. This was an interesting story that portrays how a community deals with tragedy and loss, but also how so many members of the community are keeping secrets that will be unearthed if Leanne learns the truth. Leanne is a brilliant character, who is determined to find the truth even if that means asking those difficult questions and upsetting the apple cart and members of the community along the way, including her editor. It becomes clear as the story progresses that Leanne is not only motivated by her journalistic instinct but a personal loss too. The ending was definitely one that I didn’t see coming.
This was an intriguing story. What drew me to the book in the first instance was the theatre aspect of the story and this book didn’t disappoint. It was a story that included many twists and turns and kept me guessing right up until the end.
Amanda Brooke published her first novel in her mid-forties, having turned to writing as a way of coping with the death of her young son. Her first novel, Yesterday’s Sun, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and in the last decade she has continued to write bestselling books with a strong emotional theme and an element of psychological suspense.