Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott

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Every Contact Leaves A Trace

Five words from the blurb: wife, murdered, Oxford, mystery, past

Every Contact Leave a Trace is an atmospheric murder mystery set within the grounds of an English University. The book begins with Alex discovering the body of his wife, Rachel, by a lake in Worcester College, Oxford. Access to the college is restricted so only a limited number of people were capable of committing the crime, but police investigations draw a blank. Stricken with grief, Alex sets out to discover the truth behind her death, leading him to realise that he knew far less about his wife’s life than he thought.

The enclosed setting reminded me of The Moonstone; the pace and writing style also shared similarities with this classic piece of crime fiction. Anyone looking for a fast paced thriller will be disappointed as this is a carefully constructed book that demands concentration.

The majority of the plot is revealed through Alex’s interviews with the other characters. The reader must decide whether discrepancies between the stories are due to lies, attempts to protect others from hurt, or simply different perspectives of the same event. The solution to the crime isn’t really the point of this book, the main emphasis is on relationships formed at university and how people can display different aspects of their personality depending on which situations they are faced with.

The pace is very slow and I want to criticise this, but I grew to love its teasing nature.  The continual stalling lead to a gripping narrative, perfectly crafted to keep the reader hooked and guessing  until the final pages.

He asked me if I’d like something to eat with my tea before he began again, seeing as it was lunchtime, and when I said yes, he went off into his side room to prepare it. I sat back in my chair and listened to him moving about, clattering a knife on a plate and opening and closing the door of his fridge. I allowed my mind to become a blank canvas once more, ready for him to take his brushes to it.

The central characters all studied English so there are plenty of literature references to satisfy those looking for deeper symbolism, especially those with a knowledge of Robert Browning.

My only real criticism is that the book gives no real descriptions of Oxford. Trees are beautifully depicted, but the spires of Oxford are almost entirely ignored – the college setting being a convienient plot device rather than a vivid backdrop to the story.

On a more positive note, this book has a striking design and the deep red page edges are hard to ignore.

This is a compelling mystery and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an intelligent page turner.

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