Every contact leaves a trace is Locard’s principle that traces of evidence are exchanged at moments of contact.
This first novel, Every Contact Leaves a Trace, a literary mystery by Elanor Dymott is set in Oxford and London, and tells the story of Alex and his enchanting wife, Rachel, and how little he knows about her until after she has been brutally murdered. It is less a love story and more a casserole of mysteries. A mystery for the reader and also for Alex, as he often seems to be the last to know many details about Rachel and his relationship with her. He is an incredibly unreliable narrator, which is an interesting technique, but this technique leaves the reader feeling like the story has to be sifted from muddy water (hard work). His lack of observation (or perhaps lack of natural curiosity) in the past has contributed to his confusion in the present as he moves through his memories trying to fit them in gaping holes he never even realised existed until her death.
The book opens after Rachel was murdered on Midsummer’s night when the two of them are visiting her former tutor. The meandering story line effectively shows the confused train of thought of a grieving husband, but because of Alex’s monumental lack of insight over the past decade, the book takes a long time to really gain the momentum this story deserves.
The subplots and flashbacks suggested deep dark secrets waiting to be revealed which would hold answers to many mysteries in Alex’s life, but once revealed, they all seemed to lack the frisson of the ‘aha’ moment. This promised to be a book of gradually exposed secrets and intriguing twists of human nature, behaviours backfiring and setting off chain reactions of years of revenge plots. It ended up being a sad tale about unhappy people who thought they were more interesting than they were, none of whom I cared much about at all.
I struggled to relate to any of the main characters, but several of the lesser characters, Alex’s friends, Rachel’s tutor, were exceptionally well drawn. Perhaps their relatively brief appearances forced the author to be more succinct, and thus more effective, with their development.
Where was the editor in this book? This author can really write, why wasn’t she given more direction? The book reminded me of a cross between Robert Goddard for the slowly revealed twists of mystery and yes, Donna Tartt (but only because it was about privileged dysfunctional people with a mystery). The author shows original thought and an attempt to push boundaries in another direction, for example I was relieved to not discover any contrived Greek secret societies or similar a la Tartt as so many other literary mysteries attempt to do.
I really, really wanted to like this book, but ultimately I felt exhausted and dissatisfied when I finally closed the cover for the last time.
However, I will say this: I think the author deserves a second chance so I shall definitely be watching for her future work.