It took me some time to realise Day One by Abigail Dean was named after a particular school day, rather than a countdown of days (like Ruth Ware’s recent release), or referring to the first day AFTER an event.
I didn’t enjoy Dean’s popular debut novel Girl A as much as others, and I wondered if it’d been over-hyped, though I mention in my review that as Dean kept readers guessing for some time, I’d not engaged in the plot as much as I would have liked cos I was kinda confused about what I was reading. Day One similarly keeps secrets from readers, though we most certainly know there are some as Dean foreshadows the events of the present / past and future so – though we know we’re not learning about the events in linear fashion – we kinda know where we end up.Day One
by Abigail Dean
Published by Harper Collins
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Stonesmere is an English seaside suburb defined by poignant traditions passed from generation to generation, and the bonds of small town community spirit. But when a lone gunman disrupts a school assembly, he sets of a chain of events that throws this close-kint town into turmoil.
Marty is a golden girl, albeit one sometimes in the shadow of her father’s accomplishments and the care of her mother—an outsider who became a beloved teacher. Meanwhile, Trent’s home life is in the only child of a mother forever on the lookout for the boyfriend who can remake their lives, Trent longs for Stonesmere’s stability. But he and his mother only pass through.
In the wake of the violence in Stonesmere, Trent is transfixed by the news coverage of his former home, and his sense that something doesn't quite add up. As he dives deeper, he falls under the spell of a slick online media personality and the conspiracies he peddles. As Marty fumbles to play the part of the grieving good girl, she becomes the focus of these conspiracies—and Trent’s attention.
The thing I most enjoyed about this book is the way in which Dean times the release of Marty’s secrets. When the book opens we’re getting some context from her mother Ava, and come to understand how much she genuinely cares for her students – which makes it hard to feel any sympathy for the naysayers or those critical of the Ward family later in the book.
Marty’s obviously lying in her version of events, but the circumstances in which she speaks out make [the lies] understandable. She’s protecting her mother’s memory. Initially, at least.
I felt that Dean handled the very sensitive subject of school shootings here with sensitivity – even when it came to those who decided the entire thing was fake. And – even though I would struggle to do so – she managed to deliver the conspiracy theorists’ points of view without derision.
I felt there were a couple of plot points however that could have been explored or explained a little further.
Marty is painted as the ‘golden girl’ – soccer star, excellent student and ‘head girl’. And I didn’t feel Dean really explained how that went so terribly wrong. It’s not just the secrets she’s keeping here that caused her downfall, rather she tells us she’s botched her final exams badly ‘before’ she acts-out here and the spiral seems to just continue…
Similarly I couldn’t understand Trent’s obsession with the case. We learn the perpetrator showed him some kindness to Trent when he lived in Stonesmere but the case seems to be personal. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of his personality which seems to have been affected by the death of his father and installation of new stepfather. Nonetheless, I think there was an opportunity to perhaps more directly link Trent’s need to have some purpose with the potential adulation he hoped to receive through his reporting on the Stonesmere deaths AND burgeoning connection to a well-known conspiracy theorist.
There was a lot to love about this book and it was borderline excellent for me. I particularly enjoyed the redemptive arc Dean does (and does not) offer some of our lead characters and the way in which their stories come to life.
Day One by Abigail Dean will be published by Harper Collins in early 2024.
I received an advance readers copy of this book from the publisher (in a goody bag) at Theakston Crime Festival in July 2023.