I was thoroughly gripped by this tense thriller set in Cornwall and concerning Jenifry Shaw – an experienced free climber who is in rehabilitation at the start of the novel. She hasn’t finished her voluntary fortnight stay when she’s itching for an excuse to get away and she finds one when her brother Kit calls and asks her to go home. Sure that she has the addiction under control, she drives her Aston down to her home village and since she isn’t expected, chooses to stay at the hotel rather than go straight to her family home. Feeling restless, she decides to try one of her distraction activities and go for a bracing walk along the cliffs. Much later she wakes to darkness. She’s being lashed by wind and rain, seemingly hanging from somewhere on the cliff by a very fragile rope. Every gust of wind buffets her against the surface causing cuts and grazes. She gets her bearings and realises she’s hanging from the viewing platform of the lighthouse. Normally she could climb herself out of this, most natural surfaces have small imperfections and places to grab onto, but this man made structure is completely smooth. Her only chance is to use the rapidly fraying rope to climb back to the platform and pull herself over. She’s only got one go at this though, one jerk and her weight will probably snap the rope – the only thing keeping her from a certain death dashed on the rocks below. She has no choice. She has to try.
I don’t know about you, but my heart was racing and this was just the opening! I thoroughly enjoyed this intense thriller, so much in fact, I read it in one sitting. This was too good to put down. Jen can trust no one, as she tries to investigate her own attempted murder. The dark, taciturn, Nick Crawford has to be dodgy. He’s not from the village and claims to be a carpenter, but Jen has her suspicions that his business is a cover. After all, she should know, she has been dealing with drug dealers her whole life. Could it be him who drugged her, then left her for dead at the lighthouse not knowing about her past; the talent for climbing she inherited from her father and the buzz she’d get from free climbing the seemingly impossible. Even man made structures were no match for her and the rush was incredible, hanging out with other adrenaline junkies – the base jumpers, the parkour and free running enthusiasts. The way the author wrote about this world was fascinating and very beguiling. I’m fond of saying to clients in workshops that as adults we forget to play, I now fulfil that by crafting, sewing and writing stories. My early readers will know that I broke my back when I was 11 doing somersaults in the playground when I should have been high jumping. The author truly made me think of a time before my accident when I was largely free to do as I liked. My brother and I would climb a pair of willow trees, bent so far over one of rural Lincolnshire’s many drainage dykes, that a child could lie full length in them. He would be fishing. I would take a sketchbook or journal and spend the day scribbling or sketching flowers. In the descriptions of Jen’s climbing days I remembered the freedom of a body that was loose and easy to use. The body that took me up Snowdon and other mountains, or went wild swimming and could take on any challenge without fear of pain or exhaustion. Times where it’s just you and nature. Jen promised her brother Kit that she would give up free climbing after a terrible accident left one of their friends paralysed. I understood giving up something that’s such a huge part of who you are and the need to replace that adrenaline rush with something, to self-medicate.
The sense of place was incredible. The author conjured up my Cornwall almost immediately with her descriptions of the tin mine, the crashing sea on the cliffs and fog on the moors. I recognised the sea mist that seems to coat your car and your windows. The weather was hugely important, with storms amping up the tension in the opening chapters and the fog of the final chapters adding to the mystery. Will we find out who is behind the strange and dangerous events Jen has uncovered or will it remain obscured? Cornwall is the perfect place to hide criminal activity, hence the history of smuggling and piracy, so why would it be any different today? Has the cargo changed? I loved that the author wove modern events and concerns into the story, because it helped the story feel current and real. The concerns around development and tourism are all too real for a county, dependent on the money tourism brings, but trying to find a balance where it doesn’t erode the Cornish culture. Local young people are priced out of the property market and we get a sense of that here with Kelly who left to become a dancer until a knee injury forced her home to live with her brother Talan. Kit and Jen both left in order to make their way in life, setting up a climbing business that Jen managed. Yet they are in financial dire straits after Kit and his wife try to renovate the family home into a well-being centre. Jen and Kit’s home, Their house is more of a stately home, but not an attractive one – Jen refers to it as a grey block or brick with none of the embellishments expected of a historic building. Their mum says Kit has renovated the soul from the house, and since the family spend most of their time in the unrenovated kitchen I was inclined to agree. However, without the new business opening and attracting tourists they’ll be ruined. It’s a constant love hate relationship between Cornishman and incomer.
The final chapters, as Jen discovers what’s going on in her home village, is absolutely nail-biting. I was also holding my breath in parts. I won’t give anything away but the revelations are startling and no one is who they seem. I was surprised by most of the twists and it made for a fantastic conclusion. As I usually do with a author thats new to me, I didn’t read any of the promo stuff until I’d finished the book. When I’d recovered from holding my breath, I looked the author up because I was keen to read her back catalogue. Surprisingly, this is her first novel. I’d be incredibly proud of it. It’s well-paced, exciting, and has a great central character who doesn’t need a rescuer. She can save herself. I loved the way the author built atmosphere and that simmering tension that grabs you at the outset and doesn’t let up. I’m not surprised this was picked out of a pile of submissions; it stands out. If this is what Jane Jesmond is opening with, I can’t wait to see what she’s doing next.
Meet the Author
On The Edge is JANE JESMOND’s debut novel and the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw. Although she was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, raised in Liverpool and considers herself northern through and through, Jane’s family comes from Cornwall. Her lifelong love of the Cornish landscape and culture inspired the setting of On The Edge. Jane has spent the last thirty years living and working in France. She began writing steadily six or seven years ago and writes every morning in between staring out at the sea and making cups of tea. She also enjoys reading, walking and amateur dramatics and, unlike her daredevil protagonist, is terrified of heights!
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