I’m delighted to be sharing my thoughts about The Scarlet Dress by Louise Douglas.
Alice Lang was wearing her favourite scarlet dress when she disappeared twenty-five years ago, and her memory still casts a long shadow.
‘The past was like water. Once the tide turned, you couldn’t hold it back.’
In the long, hot summer of 1995, twenty-two-year-old Alice Lang rents a caravan on a holiday park on the outskirts of the lively holiday resort of Severn Sands. She befriends Marnie, a shy, damaged little girl whose father is the park’s caretaker and whose mother died a few months earlier. Will, whose mother runs the bar, falls in love with Alice, and is unbearably jealous of anyone else she sees. Tensions rise until one evening Alice disappears from her caravan. She’s never seen again, and only her scarlet dress is found washed up on the shore.
A quarter of a century later, the town is run down and nobody comes there anymore. Mr and Mrs deVillars, former owners of the holiday park, have passed the failing business onto their son Guy, who promptly sells the land for development. Builders clearing the land to create an expanse of executive homes uncover human bones. It has to be Alice.
Will and Marnie’s lives were entirely shaped by what happened that summer, and now Alice has been found, they must struggle to pin down their memories, to escape the secrets of the past, the lies they told and the unbearable guilt they’re both carrying.
They need to find out what happened to Alice. Who killed her? And why?
Severn Sands, once a prosperous community with the holiday park bringing life and sparkle to the community is today dilapidated and uncared for. I loved the juxtaposition of the past and the future which we get to experience through flashbacks. It was interesting seeing Severn Sands in present time through Will’s eyes. The emptiness of Severn Sands is the perfect setting for the bleakness of emotions.
Will doesn’t seem to have changed much over the intervening years, stuck in a past that he obsesses over, he needs a resolution to enable him to move on. To be honest, I didn’t hold out much hope for him! I didn’t like him and even when a choice he makes gives some redemption, it didn’t change how I felt about him.
Marnie fascinated me. I loved her connection with animals and the creative workarounds she has in her business. She is such a strong character, putting herself in the face of danger without thought for herself. She’s a woman of action.
This story kept me guessing – I had a few suspects in my sights – and watched carefully for any nuggets of truth. When they come, they’re mostly dropped quietly but their ripples spread a long way!
I was there in the holiday park in that hot summer 25 years ago and I was swept away in the wintry weather of the present. I loved getting to know the characters and working out motivations. I felt a part of the community.
The Scarlet Dress was a page turner for me.
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Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author of novels including The House By The Sea and Missing You – a RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.
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