Isn’t it strange how our past shapes and torments us when we least expect it?
I’ve heard Dr. Phil say countless times that whatever story he’s focusing on is a cautionary tale. This story is definitely a cautionary tale. If you ever wondered how people wind up in abusive family relationships and how previously confident people transform into meek shadows of their former selves, you’ll gain insight by reading this book. If you weren’t already convinced how calculated and methodical perpetrators are in the execution of the physical and psychological beating down of their victims, here is a great example.
I spent so much time wondering why Cynthia Galbraith was in prison in the first place while reading When Evil Calls Your Name. Surely after the events described in White is the Coldest Colour Cynthia is due for some good fortune. I wondered about the competency of her legal team. The crime she committed seemed as though it should come under the banner of self defence or diminished responsibility.
The more I read though, the more I wondered about her complicity in the atrocities committed by her husband. Does being a victim excuse you from being responsible when you know or at least strongly suspect something heinous is happening in your home? If it’s hidden in plain sight does that give you permission to ignore and deny its presence? At what point does your inaction become criminal?
While not an easy read I found this book easier to digest than the details of Dr Galbraith’s crimes and thought processes of the first book in the series. You could read When Evil Calls Your Name without having already read White is the Coldest Colour but I’d personally recommend reading them in order to get the most out of them. I already had thoughts about Cynthia’s character going into this book and found it interesting to confirm some thoughts and discard others.
Transported from the prison of her home where we left her in White is the Coldest Colour to three years into her sixteen year sentence at White Haven Women’s Prison at the beginning of this book, we uncover the events that led her to White Haven by accessing her therapeutic journal and we also learn about her time behind bars. I appreciated that Cynthia’s story was not sugarcoated. I felt the claustrophobia of her cell and her continued torment as she relived the traumas she experienced through nightmares and recollections. There’s no magical transformation. Instead we see firsthand how the years of abuse continue to be caustic to Cynthia’s self esteem and identity.
I will quibble about the use of the word monster to describe Dr Galbraith and those of his ilk. While it’s certainly convenient and comfortable to label such depravity monstrous but I am not inclined to use that term myself as the label implies they are less than human. If we strip these people of their humanity are we then saying what they did was in their nature, they had no choice and are therefore not responsible for their actions?
Make no mistake; they are human, despite how much we’d prefer to dissociate from them. They are fallible and disgusting humans who make conscious decisions to enforce their will on others, but humans nonetheless. In a way I’m disappointed that the early life of Dr Galbraith has not been explored in the first two books in this series as I would be interested in knowing if there were experiences or behaviour in his childhood that signalled the way his life would unfold.
I don’t want to, and will never, understand why he does what he does other than the desire for power and control. I’m certainly not seeking to excuse anything he’s inflicted on any of his victims but I found it so interesting watching Cynthia’s story unfold that I wonder what I’d feel if I learned more about him.
The much needed update regarding the Mailer family from the first book was welcome but did come across as too simplistic and easy for my liking. The information about the Mailer’s and the final session with Cynthia’s prison counsellor seemed a tad rushed so I was thankful for the epilogue.
I found it interesting that in both books the children in the Galbraith family were largely unseen and silent. I could soliloquise about the silencing of children who grow up in violent homes but instead I’ll just say that, whether this was the author’s intention or not, I noticed and appreciated the authenticity this added to the family dynamics.
I don’t think this book could ever have been as gripping as the first in the series, with its police and child protection investigations and threat of imminent danger to the various victims. However the story this book told was captivating in its own right and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of John Nicholl’s books.
Content warnings include child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, paedophilia, mental health, murder and attempted suicide.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bloodhound Books for introducing me to this brilliant author.
Once Upon a Blurb
Even the darkest secrets can’t stay hidden forever …
When twenty-nine-year-old Cynthia Galbraith struggles to come to terms with her traumatic past and the realities of prison life, a prison counsellor persuades her to write a diary exploring the events that led to a life sentence for murder.
Although unconvinced at first, Cynthia finally decides she has all the time in the world and very little, if anything, to lose. As she begins writing she holds back nothing: sharing the thoughts she hadn’t dare vocalise, the things that keep her awake at night and haunt her waking hours.
Will the truth finally be revealed?