When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police are ready to write it off as a standard-issue female suicide. But the residents of the domestic violence shelter where Katie worked disagree. These women have spent weeks or even years waiting for the men they’re running from to catch up with them. They know immediately: This was murder.
Still, Detective Dan Whitworth and his team expect an open-and-shut case–until they discover evidence that suggests Katie wasn’t who she appeared. Weaving together the investigation with Katie’s final months as it barrels toward the truth, The Keeper is a riveting mystery and a searing examination of violence against women and the structures that allow it to continue, marking the debut of an incredible new voice in crime fiction.
This was not an easy read. The kind of story that makes you think. Do you have your own prejudices when it comes to abuse? Are you constantly questioning why these women can’t leave their husbands or partners? Val says at one point that women often leave their partners five times before they finally leave for good. And is it always the woman or do men get abused as well?
Katie is a young woman, with a mother suffering from terminal cancer.
Jamie meets Katie one night and he slowly starts to control her when she is at her most vulnerable. He seems so nice. People call him a ‘keeper’. But Jamie is a different kind of keeper. That was then.
This is now. DS Whitworth is old school policing. Tired, jaded and prejudiced. But he’s still a good copper. So when the body of a young suicide victim – Katie Straw – turns up in the river, the women at the shelter where she worked know different. But can they convince Whitworth and young sidekick DC Brookes, that it was murder. Because they know something, but are too scared to tell.
During the journey to discover what really happened, we also learn the stories of the other women at the shelter – drug addict Jenny, Lynne and her daughter Peony, Angie who has suffered abuse at the hands of her husband for forty-nine years, Nazia – beaten by her own brother and Sonia with her two boys. Then there is Val who runs the shelter. Not a very likeable character, but she doesn’t need to be. She does what has to be done and if you don’t like her, well that’s tough – as tough as she is herself.
Some other readers thought all these extra characters were unnecessary. But this is not a simple police procedural. It is more than a novel about catching a killer. It is about domestic abuse. Val helps the women hide from their abusive partners. DS Whitworth has seen it all. He is not convinced that Katie killed herself. It’s just a feeling, but he needs evidence. Or witnesses, and they don’t have either. Even when they find out that Straw wasn’t Katie’s real name they don’t seem to be able to find out the truth – it can’t be that difficult nowadays. Or why she was running away and who from.
On a number of occasions, we are asked to question whether it is women like Val who are prejudiced against men. Statistics show that men can also be victims of domestic abuse, but they are even less likely to seek help. Admitting you are being battered by a woman half your size is embarrassing isn’t it? When a man speaks up at a meeting he is treated as a trouble maker. There is no budget for male victims to seek protection, he says. Whitworth passes it on. They mumble about statistics and lack of resources. I wondered again whether Lynne was actually the abuser. She doesn’t really like her daughter and the little girl seems to prefer her ‘abusive’ father Frank. I’m not sure whether we are supposed to read it this way.
I feel this book could have done more to show that not all men are either prejudiced or abusers and not all abusers are men.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such a thought-provoking read.
About the Author
Jessica Moor studied English at Cambridge before completing a Creative Writing MA at Manchester University. Prior to this she spent a year working in the violence against women and girls sector and this experience inspired her first novel, Keeper.