Several books have been published fairly recently that address Barbara Vine-like themes of young people living in an isolated house over a summer, culminating in tragedy. Examples include HALF-BROKEN THINGS by Morag Joss, THE LIKENESS by Tana French and THE POISON TREE by Erin Kelly. THE PULL OF THE MOON is another one of this sub-genre.
The story is told from the point of view of Kate, a woman in her 50s who has taken early retirement from teaching after the death of her mother, and who leads a predictable, safe suburban life. She does early-bird swimming at the local pool each morning and takes Italian classes, for example. However, she is a woman with a secret past, memories of which are triggered when she receives a letter one day.
Katy (as she was then known) was at teacher-training college in Birmingham in the early 1970s, staying at home with her stifling, disapproving parents while studying. Although she is not allowed out much, she and her French friend Celine manage to sneak off to the funfair one night, where she meets Danny and his friend Simon, who are university students. Danny and Katy hit it off, so when Simon's uncle asks the two boys to spend their summer vacation at his house near Leominster rent-free in exchange for digging a pond and clearing out the garden, Katy leaps at the chance to join them, telling her parents she is going to France to visit Celine's family as she knows they won't approve of her plans. The trio enjoy their summer of love, until one hot day they impulsively drive to the coast where they meet Trudy, an attractive, free-spirited young woman who asks for a lift home with them. Trudy's entry into the group is the catalyst for all kinds of confrontations and crises.
While she is considering what to do about the letter she's received, the present-day Kate remembers all the events of that summer – to my mind in rather over-leisurely detail – leading up to the culmination of various plotlines in a simultaneous set of disasters. Kate is an interesting character, in particular in her edgy relationships with Danny's mother and her swimming companion, the gossipy Marjorie, and the mystery of her secret drives. I think the present-day part of the plot is more successful than the retrospective one, despite one highly unlikely coincidence. Overall, I enjoyed reading THE PULL OF THE MOON very much, although felt that it could have been 50 pages shorter, and that the build-up of various tensions was slightly marred by an over-hasty description of the outcome. I also liked the settings of Birmingham, Hereford and the surrounding countryside, which are relatively under-used in English crime fiction.