Chris Whitaker has set his third novel once again in America and proves there’s few better at conveying the intensity, prejudices and obsessions of a small town. Thing is, Chris Whitaker is British.

In Cape Haven the impending release of a prisoner whose crime tore the community apart is causing much anxiety for those directly involved including ailing Police Chief Walker, a troubled mother, Star, and her two children Duchess and Robin. A solid plot develops as the historic crime overlaps into a present day one but once again what Whitaker does best is characterisation, especially with quirky youngsters. In Tall Oaks we had gangster wannabe Manny, a great comic creation, who really made this debut sparkle, in All The Wicked Girls it was teenage crime-solver Noah and his crew. Here we have a choice of two with main character Duchess who copes with a miserable life by adopting the guise of an outlaw and maybe even more so the adorably loyal Thomas Noble, a short-sighted black boy with a withered hand whose devotion to the not always appealing Duchess is unquestionable.
I found myself really caring for the characters and really enjoyed the book found most when it focused on these and took a step back from the crime plot.

It feels like a more substantial novel than what has gone before and there is no doubt that Whitaker has matured as a writer. For sheer reading pleasure I would give his last novel the edge and I’m still not sure why it wasn’t amongst the big sellers of 2017 but this is still very good and should further enhance his reputation. He is one of those writers that I am absolutely fascinated to see what he will do next. I feel that Chris Whitaker could, should he desire, have a good crack at producing The Great American Novel but I would also like to know how his writing would work within a British framework.

Phil Ramage

We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker
9781785769627 Zaffre  Hardback April 2020