“Can I Trust You?”: The Past Is Never Past…

“Can I Trust You?”: The Past Is Never Past…

Twenty years ago, his daughter vanished. He was the last person to see her.
Twenty years to the day, a second girl vanishes. He’s the last person to see her too.

What an intriguing start to “Can I Trust You?”! After reading these words, I was immediately drawn into the story of Axel Petersen, the protagonist of Rob Gittins‘ third book for Hobeck Books. Gittins’ first novel for Hobeck, I’m Not There, is a crime thriller and the first of a new series set on the idyllic, if occasionally sinister and disturbing, Isle of Wight.


“Can I Trust You?” alternates between events in Axel Petersen’s past and the eerily related events of the present day. Petersen, a bookshop owner and specialist in rare volumes, is returning from an auction with a copy of Janet Frame’s “The Lagoon”.

Today is the anniversary of the still-unsolved disappearance of Axel’s daughter, which led to the breakup of his marriage and many years of mental anguish.

“it’s now twenty years to the day that our teenage daughter, Cara, walked out of our house and never returned, twenty years since she disappeared into a void she’s inhabited ever since, a void that immediately and inevitably claimed us too.”

While thinking about Cara, he has a disturbing encounter with a young woman who sits across from him on the train:

“Across the small table, Cara is watching me.
For a moment, sound ceases. For that same moment it’s as if all the air’s

been sucked out of the world. ”

How is this possible? How can this woman have his daughter’s eyes? He later finds a cryptic note in the book he bought, asking “Can I trust you?”; did she write it? When they get off at the same stop, Axel makes a fateful decision to offer her a ride to her destination. They chat a bit, he finds out that her name is Penny, he drops her off and she, also…disappears.

Axel’s subsequent actions provoke the suspicions of the police looking for Penny, especially since 20 years ago, one of them also investigated Cara’s disappearance.

It’s a great setup for an intriguing mystery. The alternating chapter headings, titled “PRESENT DAY” and “TWENTY YEARS AGO”, keeps the reader situated within the book’s timeline. The chapters also switch point-of-view from Axel’s perspective to that of other characters; Gittins skillfully weaves their stories into the narrative as a whole. It’s an interesting choice and affords the reader a fuller picture of events than Axel can possibly know. However, it didn’t help me to guess the secret of these double mysteries, separated by two decades of pain and self-doubt for everyone involved.

As the book draws to a conclusion, the tension builds and the multiple storylines converge. Along the way, I suspected several characters in turn, but came nowhere near the real solution. In other words, my favorite kind of mystery! I enjoyed “Can I Trust You?” not only for its plot, but also the way Gittins used the alternating timelines and perspectives to propel the story forward. I look forward to reading “I’m Not There” and “The Devil’s Bridge Affair’, also published by Hobeck Books.

My profound thanks go to Rebecca Collins, Director of Hobeck Books Limited, for giving me the opportunity to review such an interesting and rewarding book.

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