9 September 1993
We left in a storm. The sea was rising in sharp clumps of angry waves, rain hitting my feet like bullets. Dad must have known we shouldn’t be making the crossing to the mainland, yet he stood on the boat, one hand frantically flapping for one of us to reach out and take it. The hood of his red mac had whipped off his head, the rain plastering his hair to his scalp. He yelled over the wind for us to get in, but we wouldn’t move froam the end of the jetty.
The boat rocked violently as it tugged at the rope that kept it tethered to the dock, and I noticed Dad’s other hand gripping tighter to the steel railing of the steps. ‘Get in, Stella,’ he shouted. Thunder cracked overhead and the sky lit up with magnificent streaks of light. Behind me our house flashed bright between the silhouettes of our tall pines, making it look like something from a horror film. I pushed my hands deeper inside my raincoat, clutching Grey Bear harder to my chest. I didn’t want to leave the only home I had ever known, but I had never seen my dad so determined. His jaw was set, his teeth bared. It wasn’t like him to be so persistent, so unrelenting, and I found myself shrinking further back.
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Bonnie screamed from beside me. ‘We’ll all die if we do.’ My sister held her hood tightly against her head but I could just make out the paleness of her face in the moonlight. Bonnie had yearned to leave the island for years, but this wasn’t the way she wanted to go.
‘We will not die and we need to go,’ Dad yelled back. He turned to me and added more softly, ‘I promise you. It’s fine. We’ll be safe.’ Dad owned the small ferry that he was demanding we board, and he’d run the thirty-minute crossing between Evergreen and Poole Harbour every day for the last sixteen years. If anyone could take us to the mainland safely, it was him, but we’d never dared attempted a crossing in weather like this before. Mum wouldn’t usually let us out of the house when it was this bad.
‘Why can’t we wait till morning?’ Bonnie was begging. I stared at the water, its white foam bubbling and spitting in rage. ‘Because—’ Dad shouted. ‘God, will you both just get in?’ He flapped his hand again, his gaze drifting over my shoulder to where Mum was coming down the jetty. Her head was low, arms tucked inside a plastic poncho as she trailed a suitcase behind her.
‘Where’s Danny?’ he yelled as another flash of lightning lit up the sky, making both Bonnie and me jump. I counted, too quickly, only reaching two before thunder roared overhead. The storm was creeping closer. My brother trailed behind Mum, shrouded in a shapeless black coat that hung over his bulky body, reaching the ground.
Bonnie started shouting again, gesturing at the sea as it rose and dipped, higher and lower than I’d ever seen it go. Another loud crack filled the air and I yelped as the branch of one of the pines fell to the ground beside me. I jumped out of its way as the wind carelessly tossed it along the jetty. For a brief moment, Dad stopped yelling and stared at the branch. My tears were already bleeding into the rainwater that soaked my face, but my heart twisted every time I thought of leaving my beloved island. All I wished was for Dad to realise that whatever we were doing, it wasn’t worth it.
An isolated island community is shocked by the discovery of a long-buried body.
For Stella Harvey the news is doubly shocking. The body has been found in the garden of her childhood home – the home her family fled without explanation twenty-five years ago.
Now, desperate to unearth the truth and questioning her whole life, Stella returns to the tiny island against her sister’s advice. But she quickly finds that the community she left isn’t as welcoming as she remembers – and that the residents will go to any length to protect their secrets.
I really enjoyed ‘Come Back for Me‘. It’s a compelling mystery and it kept me guessing until the very end.
Heidi Perks uses the flashback technique to great effect during this story, slowly unfurling the truth as Stella investigates the reason her family left the island in such a rush. The characters are well-drawn and Perks manages to capture the idea of Stella seeing certain things but perhaps not understanding them or the significance they hold.
The island setting ramps up the tension perfectly, sometimes leaving Stella with no means of escape while not knowing who to trust. The isolation alongside the small-minded residents who are keen to keep their own counsel leaves the reader in no doubt how Stella must be feeling.
As with other books I’ve read recently, I really enjoyed the wider social context that drives the narrative. ‘Come Back for Me‘ masterfully explores the ripple effect of long-kept secrets and the lengths people will go to to protect them.