Clare Mackintosh (Hachette Australia) 2019. 374pp, RRP $32.99 (paperback), $39.99 (hardback).

Mackintosh’s popular former books (I Let You Go, I See You, Let Me Lie) are psychodramatic suspense tales, but her latest is a far more emotionally human piece drawn, unsurprisingly, from personal experience. There are a few secrets here (and a powerful plot stunt that recalls movies like that old English pic starring Gwyneth Paltrow), yet this is primarily about the characters and their terrible – and terribly real – predicament.

The Birmingham-residing Adamses, Pip (who works on the staff of an international airline) and Michael (a big-time American marketing consultant), have been living just about a parent’s worst nightmare for months, as their beloved little son Dylan has been receiving treatment for a brain tumour and doesn’t seem to be getting better. The earliest chapters bounce around a little, introduce a third perspective (that of Dr. Leila Khalili) and establish that this is going to be seriously rough and raw.

When Leila must break the news that Dylan’s condition isn’t going to improve, the Adamses already strained relationship splinters along with the narrative, as questions of quality of life, medical intervention and (in a roundabout way) even euthanasia are movingly pondered. But all this is in the first half or so – ‘Before’ – so what happens, as the title suggests, ‘After’?

Despite the potential for soap and confusion, the path Mackintosh takes is compelling and feels just a little more like one of her darker suspense tales, from time to time, as the grimmer, even scarier sides of Pip and Michael are laid bare. And yes, the structure is tricky but the feelings are intense, and the author works through them sensitively but unsparingly.

Not a light or easy read, this is still worth sticking with, although there are times you long for Mackintosh to bring back her previous cyber-stalkers and murder plots, as they would be easier than all this gruelling real life stuff.

Dave Bradley

This title is available through the Hachette Australia website. Click HERE to purchase your copy.

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