Toby Hennessy is a lucky man, even he would freely admit to it. The first 28 years of his life had been trauma (and drama) free. He grew up in a loving family that happened to have plenty of money to help ease his way through life. He was educated, well-employed, and in love with a wonderful woman. In fact, things had always gone so smoothly for Toby, that he often found he could bend the rules — just a bit, here and there — without consequences. Until, of course, his luck changed.
In short order, Toby intentionally defrauds his employer and is caught. Then, he is brutally attacked and left for dead inside his Dublin apartment. When he wakes, life as he has known it is over.
The attack severely injured Toby’s brain, leaving him partially paralyzed, unable to talk without slurring, and nearly incapable of processing information or making decisions. Additionally, he is suffering from PTSD and crippling anxiety caused by knowing that the men who attacked him have not been caught by the police. After weeks of care, Toby leaves the hospital hardly recognizable to his family and friends.
When months pass and his recovery is stalling out and his mental health deteriorating quickly, Toby begins to worry that he may not be able to survive the world on his own. Then, a call from a cousin changes everything.
Their beloved Uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer and needs someone to live with him and help care for him in his final months. The family wants Toby to move to Hugo’s large ancestral manor house outside of the city to become his Uncle’s companion.
Toby initially refuses, certain that his inability to care for himself precludes him from caring for Hugo. Once persuaded that he was the only one for the job, he agrees. Although the change is grueling: new routines, larger house and grounds to maneuver, new things to learn and try to remember, Toby finds himself relaxing for the first time since the attack.
Being back in the beloved Ivy House with a favorite uncle is healing in ways he never expected. Both men are struggling to walk, talk, and remember, but together they create simple and calm routines that suit them both. Away from the city, Toby’s fears about crime diminish and having to care for his uncle keeps the worst of his anxieties at bay.
Toby is — almost, almost — lulled into complacency once again. He feels that this new life might be manageable and he might just recover after all. Everything bad that could happen, has, he believes. Things can only improve. Of course, he is wrong again.
When the remains of a missing person are found in the gardens at Ivy House, the entire family is thrown into chaos. No one, more than Toby; whose fragile mental state, shoddy memory, and physical limitations grow worse as the police investigation unfolds.
Slowly, connections between Toby’s past, his attack in the summer, the body begin to form. Is it possible that the robbery on his apartment was not random? Could the body be connected to something Toby did as a younger man; one of those pranks he brushed off as harmless? Most importantly, can the damaged, fragile Toby handle the new nightmares that were coming his way?
Tana French is a wonderful author, but one whose work I do not always connect with. (I love her book The Likeness, reviewed here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-32E ). This book, although slow to start, is worth sticking with through the twists and turns. (Be warned: some of her “how I did it” speeches are long-winded.) Her flawed, damaged main character adds a layer of complexity to the story and the setting and atmosphere — the crumbling manor house, the start of chilly Autumn — are spot on. Enjoy!