When I Was Ten by Fiona Cummins #BookReview #FirstMondayCrime


Twenty-one years ago, Dr Richard Carter and his wife Pamela were killed in what has become the most infamous double murder of the modern age.

Their ten year-old daughter – nicknamed the Angel of Death – spent eight years in a children’s secure unit and is living quietly under an assumed name with a family of her own.

Now, on the anniversary of the trial, a documentary team has tracked down her older sister, compelling her to break two decades of silence.

Her explosive interview sparks national headlines and journalist Brinley Booth, a childhood friend of the Carter sisters, is tasked with covering the news story.

For the first time, the three women are forced to confront what really happened that night – with devastating consequences for them all.

When I Was Ten is the highly anticipated, stay-up-all-night next book by acclaimed crime author Fiona Cummins.

As a special treat this month, the lovely people at First Monday Crime have put together a second fabulous panel in May. Head to their Facebook page this evening (Monday 24th May) at 7:30pm BST to watch the live discussion between B.A. Paris (The Therapist), Fiona Cummins (When I Was Ten), Mel Grath (Two Wrongs) and Laura Shepherd-Robinson (Daughters of Night) with Jake Kerridge moderating.
I've had my gifted copy of When I Was Ten since Capital Crime in 2019 but the pandemic delayed its publication date so I'm delighted to finally be able to share my review. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan and Capital Crime for my copy and to Joy Kluver for inviting me to join the other First Monday bloggers; check out their Twitter account for reviews of the other books on the panel.

When children become killers the public are invariably consumed by such an unimaginable tragedy, with the fierce debates about motivation and punishment persisting for years. When I Was Ten opens in 1997 with a chilling prologue which takes place in the immediate aftermath of a bloody double parricide and finds a distraught young girl running on a hillside in a thunderstorm, shocked by the death of her mother and two other adults, before lightning strikes...
In 2018,  Catherine Allen is also terrified but the reason behind her fear isn't obvious at this point. What is clear, however, is that something in her life has suddenly changed and the settled, comfortable existence she has cultivated with her husband and twelve-year-old daughter is under threat. We are warned of the fate which is shortly to befall Catherine but what this actually means is far from predictable. This first part of the novel is concerned with the long-term consequences of the earlier murders as one of the sisters involved has agreed to a dramatic interview that will once again thrust the doomed Carter family back into the limelight. 
As the news media vies for the best exclusive, two further characters are incorporated into the story; Tory MP, Geoffrey Heathcote and a young journalist, Brinley Booth. Heathcote becomes embroiled in the narrative after an unguarded moment and as the book progresses, he symbolises the hypocrisy of the moralistic rush to condemn and to castigate. Meanwhile, Brinley has a more personal reason for becoming involved as she knew the Carter sisters when they were children.  
From the instant Catherine hears Shannon Carter on the news, her life is rapidly torn apart and the third-person perspective of these chapters heightens the sense of intrigue and allows us to watch and to sympathise with her as she desperately tries to protect her own family which hovers precariously on the brink of collapse. By contrast, the parts of the story which follow Brinley are in the first person, with the more immediate narrative giving readers an insight into her conflicted emotions as she wrestles with her desire to further her career while still questioning whether she should reveal her true role in the horrific events of the past. Both women clearly have long-guarded secrets but Fiona Cummins ensures that it's impossible not to empathise with them even after some shocking bombshells later in the novel.
Part Two takes us back to when Shannon and Sara Carter were just children and Brinley was their neighbour and friend. These chapters are the darkest in the book, detailing the cruel, abusive truth behind the seemingly perfect fa├žade presented by the local doctor and his wife. There's a terrible inevitability to these scenes as events lead inexorably to the point where a ten-year-old girl finally cracks.
Returning to the present day, the tension rises relentlessly as the brutal acts of the past continue to exact a painful toll on victims and perpetrators alike. There's a third voice woven throughout too - an unknown character corresponds with an unnamed character, with the messages becoming increasingly sinister as the reader begins to finally understand the full, harrowing truth of what occurred back then and what it means now.
Compassionate, poignant and uncompromising, When I Was Ten is an unsettling, gripping thriller which twists and turns throughout but for all the dramatic revelations, it is also a compelling portrait of violent guilt and fear amidst intense loyalties. This might be the first book I've read by Fiona Cummins but such consummate, intelligent storytelling ensures it won't be the last. Very highly recommended.
When I Was Ten is published by Pan Macmillan, purchasing links can be found here but please support independent bookstores whenever possible.

About the Author
Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. She is also the author of Rattle, The Collector and The Neighbour. She lives in Essex with her family.