How many books do you buy, shelve, and forget about? When I’d bought Rosamund Lupton’s Afterwards in Heathrow Airport in December, I was so excited to get a book four months before it would be published in the United States. Her first book – Sister – had me locked into reading in one night. But I got distracted, and now with the hardback available in American bookstores, I am finally opening the British paperback, months later – using my sales receipt from Heathrow as a bookmark.
As I read, I noticed the British flavor in the language – a character described as a jolly-hockey-sticks Sloane in FUN shirts (long sleeves a different pattern to the rest); reference to “a spot-on present”; and, of course “Mum” instead of Mom. I wondered if an editor changed words for the American publication as for the cover, which was eerily different.
The device Lupton uses to tell the story reminded me of the movie, “Just Like Heaven,” with Reese Witherspoon’s character flitting about uncovering clues, while her body lay comatose in the hospital. Lupton uses two roving spirits to uncover clues to the mystery of who set the lethal fire to the schoolhouse – Grace, the literate Cambridge educated part-time news reporter, and her daughter Jenni, a creative seventeen year old who probably will not pass the entrance exams.
On sports day, when the children, including Grace’s son, eight year old Adam, are out on the field, an arsonist burns down the school. Grace tries to rescue her daughter, who is working as the school nurse for the day, but they both are badly hurt and lie comatose in the hospital. Their spirits, however, reconnect outside their bodies, roaming the halls, listening to doctors and family discuss their fate, and following possible murderers around the halls and into the neighborhood. Although the premise is far-fetched, the conversations between mother and daughter are as normal as if they were alive, as they become a detective team to solve the whodunit.
An easy read, with enough suspense to keep the plot moving, Afterwards has as many family relationship issues as mystery, but Lupton is expert at throwing red herrings, and the culprit is not obvious until the end of the story. The end is thrilling but be sure to have some tissues handy.