Leah Mills was involved in something awful 14 years ago when she was a teenager, and it's dogged her mind ever since. Although she fled from the town in which it happened (moving to London, where she works in a library and lives almost as a recluse), the thought that her past will catch up with her is always in her mind. Almost as a lark, she visits an online dating site and has a virtual meet-up with site moderator Julian. Second-guessing herself every step of the way as she apparently has done since early childhood - she could be the poster child for insecurity - she begins to think a real relationship with Julian may be possible.
But then, she gets a nasty surprise: Someone, it seems, has discovered her true identity which, on the anniversary of that horrible event, threatens to disrupt her already miserable life. She tries to ignore the message, but as usual, her self-doubt wins out, prompting her to question even more than usual the words and actions of her co-workers (as for friends, fuhgettaboutit; she has none). As it becomes clear that her tormentor isn't going to leave her alone, her self-esteem nosedives to new lows. Meanwhile, neither her Mum, who still lives in the family home near London, or the psychologist she sees every once in a while, is able to help - mostly because she refuses to open up to either of them - but she manages to find a bit of solace through interaction with Julian and a kindly gentleman who frequents the library but in whom she has no romantic interest.
Chapters shuffle back and forth from the present to Leah's school years, a technique of which I'm usually not a fan. But the author uses it to good advantage, here, with each switch adding just enough background and clues to make me reluctant to put the book down till the end, when everything comes together and the realities of past and present are revealed. Early on, I reached my own conclusions - correctly, as it turns out - but it really didn't matter; the devil is in the details, after all.
One thing I never did figure out, though: How is it possible to cradle a mug of hot tea to keep your hands warm while simultaneously surfing through photos on a laptop? Multi-tasker that I am, that's a secret I'd really love to know!
For the record, I received a copy of this book for review at no cost from the publisher through Netgalley.com.
The Girl With No Past by Kathryn Croft (Bookouture, October 2015); 261 pp.