Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Unforgiven - Maynah Lewis

First published 1974; cover shown is the Collins (UK) first edition hardcover. Jacket design by Biro. 158 pages.

At the start of a planned European holiday, American Eve Shannon stops at an out-of-the-way English village called Balderstock. Its population of just a few hundred immediately notice the "foreigner" staying at the local Wheatsheaf Inn. Gossip is rife as to just why she has travelled to such a small village. Eve herself barely knows.

Six years before, her half-brother Pete had been stationed near the town with a unit of American soldiers. Something happened while he was there; something so terrible that he virtually ignored Eve when he returned to the States. When she was called to his deathbed after a construction accident, his last words were, "Tell them it wasn't my fault! Tell them I wasn't drunk!" Now, Eve has travelled halfway around the world to fulfil Pete's dying wish.

After making discreet enquiries - easier said than done in such a close-knit community - Eve discovers that a road accident some six years earlier had claimed the life of one village child and horrifically injured another. Travelling by bus to a larger town, Eve accesses the newspaper files... and finally uncovers the truth. Pete had been convicted of drunk driving and manslaughter, and jailed for two years.

Shocked and uncertain where to start, Eve sets out to make amends as best she can. At first her biggest obstacle seems to be John Barraclough. It was his much younger brother who had been killed in the accident, and it is he who has been caring financially for the permanently disabled boy. Their intense attraction to each other seems more a hindrance than a help.

When Eve is ordered by the manager of the Wheatsheaf Inn to leave, she realises that some of the villagers don't want Pete's dying declaration of innocence to be made public. And just when it seems that her efforts to make amends were in vain, a medical emergency gives her the chance to redeem herself in the eyes of some of the villagers - and to finally vindicate her brother.

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