Every Contact Leaves A Trace: A Novel

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“This is more than a murder mystery. It's an examination of the subjectivity of accounts of truth. It’s a desperately moving love story about a lonely man who finds salvation in another only to have the idyll destroyed. Finally, it’s a tale of revenge, served cold and deadly.” —Independent
Elanor Dymott’s gorgeous debut tells the story of Alex, a solitary lawyer who has finally found love in the form of his beautiful wife, Rachel. When Rachel is brutally murdered one midsummer night on the grounds of their alma ...

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Every Contact Leaves A Trace: A Novel

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“This is more than a murder mystery. It's an examination of the subjectivity of accounts of truth. It’s a desperately moving love story about a lonely man who finds salvation in another only to have the idyll destroyed. Finally, it’s a tale of revenge, served cold and deadly.” —Independent
Elanor Dymott’s gorgeous debut tells the story of Alex, a solitary lawyer who has finally found love in the form of his beautiful wife, Rachel. When Rachel is brutally murdered one midsummer night on the grounds of their alma mater, Worcester College, Oxford, Alex’s life as he knows it vanishes.
He returns to Oxford that winter and, through the shroud of his shock and grief, tries to piece together the mystery surrounding his wife’s death. Playing host to Alex’s winter visit is Harry, Rachel’s former tutor and trusted mentor, who turns out to have been involved in almost every significant development of their relationship. Alex also turns to Evie, Rachel’s self-centered and difficult godmother, whose jealousy of her charge has waxed and waned over the years. And then there are her university friends Anthony and Cissy, who shared with Rachel her taste for literature and for the illicit.As he delves further into the mystery surrounding her death, Alex discovers in Rachel’s wake a tangled web of sex and jealousy, of would-be lovers and spiteful friends, of the poetry of Robert Browning, and of blackmail. Brilliantly written and suffused with eroticism, mystery, and a hint of menace, Every Contact Leaves a Trace introduces a stunning new voice in contemporary fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Part meditation on grief and memory, part literary thriller, Dymott’s complex debut is thoughtful and rich in mood. London attorney Alex Peterson is mourning the loss of his wife Rachel, killed six months ago during a visit to the Oxford college where they met as students. The combination of the depth of his sadness and his legal mind draws him into the questions surrounding her unsolved murder, so when he is contacted by Rachel’s former English professor, Harry, who they were visiting the night of her death, Alex thinks the prof might have some answers. Harry relates a long and meandering tale about Rachel’s relationships with her two closest college friends and her guardian, and his own complicity in her death. Alex uses that information to piece together an explanation that reveals the slippery nature of truth and memory. Dymott’s tale is disappointing as often as it is engaging, hampered by Alex’s bland narration and too many levels of mediation, and by a slim, questionable story, but patient and forgiving readers of Gone Girl and The Secret History will be drawn in by its contemplation. Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta, the Zoe Pagnamenta Agency. (May)
Every Contact Leaves A Trace hooked me from the first few chapters, and swept me along on an amazing ride…It makes each of us question, what is love? Every contact does leave a trace, and it really…creates something new and unpredictable.”
“Dymott proves skillful on a number of fronts, including conjuring the mysteries of human nature and the cloistered environment of an elite university….the author’s deft evocation of mood and place marks her as a writer to watch.”
Maureen Corrigan - NPR
“Every Contact Leaves a Trace is an intelligent literary mystery, featuring the kind of tormented narrator that Robert Browning himself might have relished.”
"Buyer’s Choice” at Book Passage
“A murder mystery and love story brilliantly written and suffused with eroticism and a hint of menace…. A fabulous and haunting tale or revenge.”
Financial Times
“Shrewdly plotted and elegantly written…a narrative that is alert to life’s unknowable randomness.”
“Superb…a quite exceptional novel…Beginning as a straightforward locked-room mystery, it develops into a delicate meditation on grief and revenge…Dymott has contrived a plot that is deeply satisfying.”
Maile Meloy
“Elanor Dymott’s gorgeous debut novel is a murder mystery that's also a brilliant meditation on love and memory and loss. Like the Robert Browning poems her characters read at Oxford, the book is spooky, lovesick, dark, andlush, its narrator circling obsessively back on the death at its heart.”
Taylor Stevens
“A beautifully written novel that seeks to unravel the mystery of a marriage—and a murder. Coyly revealing, it dares us to ask how well we can ever know a loved one.”
Lisa Unger
“Lyrical, haunting, and beautifully told, this book is a compelling mystery wrapped inside a tender love story. Ms. Dymott doesn't as much tell us story in her stellar novel as she casts us under a delicate but unbreakable spell.”
Kirkus Reviews
Zambia-born Oxford graduate Dymott's debut novel moves slowly through the world of academia and postgraduate life as it chronicles the murder of a woman who was as mysterious in life as she was in death. Alex Peterson and Rachel Cardadine marry after being seated near one another at the wedding of mutual friends following their graduations from Oxford. Rachel studied poetry, but Alex followed the law, and although they had known one another while students, this later meeting changed their relationship into something serious. One night, after dining with a former tutor and close friend, Rachel leaves Alex for a short walk alone by a nearby lake and is murdered. Alex is briefly arrested for the slaying, until the tutor steps forward and helps absolve him of the killing. Alex decides to dig into his dead wife's mysterious past, which includes a rocky relationship with Evie, the odd and unforgiving godmother who supported Rachel, and her friendships with two college study companions. Readers will have difficulty embracing Alex and Rachel, since neither exhibits any warmth or even a quirkiness that might make them interesting. Instead, the story moves sluggishly along, encumbered by clunky dialogue, a meandering plot and constantly changing tenses within scenes, all of which detract from the narrative tension. But the author does reveal a nice sense of place, and her descriptions of the school and other geographic settings are compelling, while the secondary story, which centers upon Alex's childhood, a tragic relationship with a friend and his father's downfall, is nicely drawn. Those who like moody British-based academic thrillers may find this is their cup of tea, but those not positively inclined toward excessive navel-gazing and a slow, deliberate plot will find it boring.
Library Journal
Dymott's debut novel opens with the crime: Rachel, the beautiful, intelligent wife of Alex (a lawyer and the book's narrator), has been killed on the campus of Worchester College, Oxford University, after an alumni dinner. As Alex picks through his memories of Rachel, which may not be reliable, and follows up on leads into the mystery of her death, Dymott submerges her readers into Alex's grief and guilt. This moody, atmospheric literary mystery, along with its academic setting, brings to mind similar novels such as Donna Tartt's The Secret History. At times, the plot seems overly long and drawn out. In the end, however, Dymott's beautiful prose and the elegant, measured nature of the plot should satisfy readers who hang in until the end. VERDICT Recommended for those who enjoy literary thrillers and mystery novels, and fans of authors such as Tartt and Ian McEwan.—Amy Hoseth, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins
The Barnes & Noble Review

Alex Petersen, the narrator in Elanor Dymott's debut novel, Every Contact Leaves a Trace, is a perennial type in British fiction: the dull, honorable husband who has waded out of his depth into the bloody waters of passion and revenge. "If you were to ask me to tell you about my wife," he begins, "I would have to warn you at the outset that I don't know a great deal about her." Rachel, for her part, is an equally familiar character. Fragile, unruly, and sexually omnivorous with a murky past, she will prove, predictably, to be as irritating to the reader as she is entrancing to Alex, who sees her clearly only in hindsight. That is, after she has been brutally murdered.

Of an early, fateful encounter, Alex recalls, "She was playing some kind of a game with me," and this is the first of many warning signs that he misses. But is Alex merely dull or monstrous? The suspicion arises early on when he describes the gardens at Worcester College, Oxford, as "...a place to begin, as good as any other. Or, I suppose, as a place to die...to have you head stoven in by someone bringing a stone, lifted from the lake and covered in weed and scum, down onto your skull six or seven times as you crouch to the grass, your face getting closer to it with each blow?." The sudden violence of the language makes Alex seem, for a moment, either unreliable or unhinged, and Dymott skillfully teases us with this possibility throughout the novel. She also casts doubt on a fusty Oxford academic who seems to know more about Rachel's death — and life — than he has revealed to the police.

"It's important, Alex, that things are revealed to you in the right order, so you may see them as I have done," Harry Gardner, senior tutor and fellow in English literature, cautions when he invites the bereaved lawyer back to Oxford. In a series of fireside conversations (a setup that recalls any number of Victorian murder mysteries), Harry describes the three students he came to know, regrettably, too well. Rachel Cardanine, Anthony Trelissick, and Cissy Craig were inseparable and, Alex learns, notorious, not only for their drunken escapades but also for their shared sex life: "...just one big Oxford cliché," Anthony, the working- class outsider, later admits of the boozing, smoking, nudity, and naughtiness that Rachel seems to have choreographed.

The atmosphere darkens when Harry receives a series of anonymous letters accusing him of having killed his wife. Each letter contains an apposite quote from a Robert Browning poem. Furthermore, an essay of Rachel's titled "Robert Browning: Wife Killer?" appears to be have been originally written in another hand. Does the motive for Rachel's murder lie in the letters or the essay, in what she did or in what she knew?

Alex believes that "...a narrative would eventually be constructed and lowered successfully into place on top of what had seemed at the outset to be a foundation of facts shifting so constantly about one another that they would not bear the weight of it." This happens, eventually. By then, however, so much has been incrementally revealed that the bright edge of suspense, honed so effectively by Dymott, has lost much of its sinister glint.

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393239775
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/6/2013
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Elanor Dymott was born in Zambia. She studied literature at Worcester College, Oxford, later working as a commercial lawyer and legal reporter.She lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2014

    Clever and Witty

    Seemed to start slow but in a short while it's hard to put down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2013

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    Posted October 7, 2013

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