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The Start of Everything: A Novel

The Start of Everything: A Novel

3.3 3
by Emily Winslow

In this stunning psychological thriller for readers of Tana French, Kate Atkinson, and Donna Tartt, Emily Winslow has crafted a literary prism told through the eyes of her many intricately drawn characters. Masterly and mesmerizing, The Start of Everything will captivate until the very last page.
“If you don’t want to see


In this stunning psychological thriller for readers of Tana French, Kate Atkinson, and Donna Tartt, Emily Winslow has crafted a literary prism told through the eyes of her many intricately drawn characters. Masterly and mesmerizing, The Start of Everything will captivate until the very last page.
“If you don’t want to see me again, say so. But it’s not right to say nothing. It’s not right to go silent. You know what to do.”
Cambridge, England: Outside the city, the badly decomposed body of a teenage girl has washed up in the flooded fens. Detective Inspector Chloe Frohmann and her partner, Morris Keene, must work quickly to identify the victim before the press takes off with the salacious story.
Across the hallowed paths and storied squares of Cambridge University, the detectives follow scant clues toward the identity of the dead girl. Eventually, their search leads them to Deeping House, an imposing country manor where, over the course of one Christmas holiday, three families, two nannies, and one young writer were snowed in together. Chloe Frohmann begins to unravel a tangled web of passions and secrets, of long-buried crimes and freshly committed horrors. But in order to reveal the truth—about misaddressed letters, a devastating affair, and a murdered teenager—she may have to betray her partner.

“Emily Winslow effortlessly weaves together separate lives with intertwined lies, creating a powerful web of small deceits and horrifying misdeeds. The Start of Everything is a must read!”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Art Taylor
…coincidences and intermittent confusions aside, The Start of Everything does offer something unconventional, even innovative. While Cambridge and that manor house may hark back to traditional British mysteries—a murder or two, clues and red herrings, the killer smoothly unmasked—it's important to note that the manor house here has been "chopped into flats," traditions have been broken, modern life is intruding. If Winslow overworks some of the connections here, she's brilliant at portraying the ragged fragments of these lives. What emerges isn't a single killer with motive and means, but a tangle of stories crossing and colliding, stray intersections of incidents and accidents, misunderstandings and misreadings, all thanks to the myopia of individual perspectives and the self-centeredness of individual desires.
Publishers Weekly
A misaddressed letter connects the threads of Winslow’s sometimes compelling but ultimately frustrating second novel (after The Whole World). When a badly decomposed body is discovered in a fen near Cambridge University, the case lands with Det. Insp. Chloe Frohmann and her partner, Det. Chief Insp. Morris Keene, recently back on the job after a violent encounter with a suspect left him with limited use of his right hand. In the Cambridge registrar’s office, Mathilde Oliver, who seems to have something akin to Asperger’s, becomes obsessed with a series of letters written by a man named Stephen to a woman named Katja, whose connection to the nameless corpse soon emerges. The detectives wrestle with demons both personal and professional, including Chloe’s misplaced guilt over Morris’s injury, as their search leads to a renovated manor house and the twisted lives of its inhabitants. Despite the characters’ flashes of depth, the excessively complicated plot makes for slow-going. Agent: Cameron McClure, Donald Maass Literary. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Emily Winslow and The Start of Everything
“A masterly whodunnit! Emily Winslow effortlessly weaves together separate lives and intertwined lies, creating a powerful web of small deceits and horrifying misdeeds. The Start of Everything is a must-read!”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner
“Emily Winslow’s writing is uniquely perceptive and penetrating, inhabiting the minds of her characters with great subtlety. She is a precise and expert analyst of the darkest parts of the human psyche.”—Sophie Hannah, author of The Other Woman’s House
“Winslow’s pace and language are assured, and the multiple points of view are deftly drawn. But it is the vividly nuanced relationships between her characters that will rivet readers as the story hurtles toward its can’t-look-away conclusion.”—Sophie Littlefield, author of A Bad Day for Mercy
“You’ll find your palms sweating out the dysfunction, awkwardness, inhibitions, challenges, and brilliance of this fleshed-out, comfortable, uncomfortable, duplicitous, and surprising cast of characters while Emily Winslow draws them and you into a carefully plotted and treacherous existence.”—Amanda Kyle Williams, author of The Stranger in the Room
“Marvelous . . . Every word flows smoothly and pulses with meaning. In The Start of Everything, Emily Winslow has crafted a riveting mystery layered with dark secrets, uneasy alliances, and tangled truths. This is literary suspense at its finest.”—Carla Buckley, author of Invisible
Praise for The Whole World
The Whole World shines as a potent look at the self-absorption and angst of youth and the regrets and doubts of middle age.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
“The pieces come together to reveal a vivid—and shocking—picture at the end.”—Parade
“A first novel about growing up . . . written in an intimate, breathy, stream-of-consciousness style that captures youth’s ardor.”—The Palm Beach Post
Kirkus Reviews
The discovery of the body of a young woman sets a strange chain of events in motion in Winslow's second thriller set in Britain (The Whole World, 2010). Police Inspector Chloe Frohmann and her partner, Morris Keene, are assigned to investigate how an unidentified young woman ended up in a marshy area in the English countryside. Morris has been out on medical leave inspired by an injury he received when completing a solo interview. Chloe knows her fellow officers hold her responsible for his injuries since she didn't accompany her partner to the scene, and she believes they resent her recent promotion to detective inspector. She's also in a difficult position with her boss, who has requested that Chloe appraise him on whether Morris is fit for the job. Meanwhile, a very disturbed young woman named Mathilde Oliver is trying to find a student named Katja. The daughter of Cambridge mathematics professor Tobias Oliver, Mathilde tracks down the identities of students and campus personnel when mail is received that cannot be delivered to them. While looking for Katja, Mathilde finds herself in the middle of something she didn't expect, leaving her to fend for herself in this odd and often confusing story. The book is told in turn by different characters. The author weaves back and forth between the past and future, connecting both the body in the marsh and Mathilde's quest and eventual fate, while the investigation hiccups along. Each character's unique point of view impacts the case, but the technique sometimes makes the story difficult to follow. Winslow writes interesting, evocative fiction, although her American roots shine through, and the characters sound more like cast members on an episode of Law & Order than the Brits they are supposed to be. If the book has one central flaw, it's that the characters are uniformly difficult to like, particularly the female police officer Chloe, and their actions don't always make sense in the context of the plot. Although a promising writer, Winslow introduces so many voices, plotlines and characters that readers may need a cheat sheet in order to keep track of the action.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt



I rubbed my finger along the envelope’s triangle flap. It was sealed all along the V, except for a small gap at each corner.

I pulled the letter off the pile and down into my lap, under the table. No one saw. Everyone had their own work. I slid the tip of my smallest finger into the puffed-­up right corner.

The printer stopped. It had been spitting pages for thirty minutes. Without the noise of its grinding and rolling as background, a rip would scream.

“I have to leave,” I said, standing up. It’s important to explain abrupt movements. “I have an appointment.” I pushed the letter into my bag, then threaded my arm through the handles to shut the bag between my ribs and upper arm.

I always sit at the end of the table so I can’t be trapped or nudged. Table legs touching mine are completely different from someone else’s knee. But today someone had already been in place at the end of the table, with papers spread out for sorting. Not only had I been made to sit along the side; I had to sit well in. Then she made her stacks, creating space again, space that got filled before I noticed it. Trevor had sat down next to me. Now he leaned onto his chair’s two back legs. There was no way past. I waited, bouncing my elbow against my bag.

“Oh, sorry!” he said, and pulled his chair in. I squeezed past, holding my breath. The back of my skirt rubbed against the windowsill. The tips of his dark hair brushed against my shirt buttons. I popped out into the small open space next to the copier. The door was only five feet away. If I lay down across the carpet, I would push it open with the top of my head. That’s how close it was.

But Lucy squatted in front of the filing cabinet, blocking the door. She did it deliberately.

“Lucy!” Trevor hissed. She looked up, and he stifled a laugh.

She closed the drawer and stood but was still right there. I turned sideways so I didn’t graze any of her body as I opened the door.

I was unobstructed from there. The corridor was empty. The receptionist in the entrance never speaks to me. I charged outside into the courtyard and stopped. The spring sunlight was so bright that I closed my eyes. The letter crinkled against an apple in my bag.

A hand came down on my shoulder. I shimmied to throw it off. Too close, too close. I snapped my eyes open.

George is a big man. I took a step back.

“Er, Mattie?” he said. “Where are you going?” He rocked from one foot to the other.

“What?” I said. Another step. My heel hit the bottom step be- hind me.

“Mattie, I was coming in to get you. It’s your father. He’s had ­another heart attack. He’s been taken to hospital. I should bring you.”

The hospital. It would be full of people. There would be rules I don’t know.

“No,” I said.

“We’ll stop by your house first. We can pick up some things for him to . . .”

He reached out, and I smacked his hand. The contact shocked me. I don’t like to have to do that.

He made two fists at his sides.

I retreated up the steps, back into the Registrar’s reception area. “Would you tell him to leave me alone, please?” I said to the woman at the desk. I stood sideways to her, facing a wall. But she knew I was talking to her.

George followed me. “Her father’s been taken to Addenbrooke’s,” he explained. “He’s Dr. Oliver, from Astronomy.”

“Miss?” the receptionist said, asking me if it was true, or if I cared.

“I don’t have to go,” I said. “There isn’t a rule.”

“No, there isn’t,” she said. She lifted the phone, as if she might call security. Or not. It was up to George.

He rocked back and forth again. He pushed air out of his mouth. He turned and left.

“Are you all right? Do you need an escort?” the receptionist asked. She leaned forward. Next to her hand was a calendar that had just the number of today’s date on it, and a dictionary definition of the word “anodyne.”

“No, I—­”

Trevor was suddenly there, next to the desk. He must have finished the filing. It must be lunchtime. He had a jacket on. “Mathilde, a sandwich?”

“No,” I said.

“You left your notebook on the table.” He jerked his thumb back towards the office.

“It’s in my bag,” I said, squeezing the canvas mouth more tightly shut against my ribs. It had to be in my bag.

“No, you left in a hurry. I can get it for you if you want.”


This is just the kind of thing my father doesn’t understand. He thinks that because the lists I keep aren’t embarrassing, they aren’t ­private. But they’re mine. That makes them private, even if what I write down is ordinary. It’s not anybody’s business what I keep track of.

“I’ll get it,” I said. I walked forward and stopped.


One of Trevor’s buttons had a wild thread unravelling through it. It was right in front of my face.

He backed up until there was space for him to move sideways, and he let me pass.

Meet the Author

Emily Winslow is an American living in England. She’s the author of The Whole World (published by Delacorte in 2010) and is at work on her next novel of suspense, also to be set in Cambridge. Her training as an actress at Carnegie Mellon’s elite drama conservatory is put to use in her multiple first-person narrators, and her years designing puzzles for Games magazine inform her playful, complex plot structures. She and her husband live in Cambridge with their two sons, in a house full of books.

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The Start of Everything: A Novel 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
MyBookAddictionandMore More than 1 year ago
THE START OF EVERYTHING begins when a decomposed body is found washed up in the fens. The detectives are searching for clues to find out who this woman is. It also appears the police are not the only ones looking for the girl. The books' chapters are categorized by people in the book. Each character has their own chapter, but yet they all intertwine. The book is not difficult to follow, although there are many twists and turns. You think you know what is going on then, another twist and the ending will be a definite surprise. I don't want to spoil the book, so I will end the review by saying THE START OF EVERYTHING IS a truly great read! Rating: 4 Heat Rating: mild/hot Reviewed By:Rae My Book Addiction And More
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book stared off well but went down hill fast The characters are shallow and then all if a sudden try to be deep with lots of feeling The story wanders and is hard to follow as too many characters narrate
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
Emily Winslow spins a complicated web of mystery and intrigue in her latest novel, The Start of Everything. The story takes place near Cambridge University, England and begins with the introduction of Mathilde Oliver—a young woman with multiple phobias. It seems she has severe intimacy issues. The detestable notion of anything or anyone coming in contact with her is unconscionable. She works in the Registrar’s office at Cambridge University and it seems her greatest challenge in life is to maintain autonomy. Unbeknownst to her co-workers, she is on a mission to locate Katye, a mystery lady who keeps receiving letters from Stephen. Sadly, the letters are not making it to their intended recipient because while Mathilde keeps intercepting them, she has no idea who this woman is. However, it is Mathilde’s personal goal to locate Katye. As the story unfolds, two more characters are introduced—newly appointed Detective Inspector Chloe Frohmann and DCI Morris Keene of the Major Investigations division. They’ve been assigned to solve the mystery of the extremely bloated and decomposed body found in the drainage ditch off B1040 road near the University. Together, they must identify the remains and determine how it got there and why. If only it were that easy… It seems Frohmann has more to prove than solving the case with her partner, Keene. The tides have changed as well as roles. Frohmann is the lead detective now. Keene has recently returned to his post after recovering from a near-death, on-the-job occurrence. His ‘A’ game will never rise again thanks to permanent injuries sustained from the experience. Aside from solving the case, Frohmann’s added challenge will be to learn how to navigate her new appointment. She is still proving herself to her less than supportive male peers. This is only one of the many mounting challenges the two face as they delve into solving the crime. I am inspired by Ms. Winslow’s explicit approach as she develops each character; particularly with the eccentricities and depth of Mathilde Oliver’s obsessive compulsive behaviors and oddities. Ms. Winslow is in tune with her art to bringing a character to life. I am consistently impressed with authors who achieve this with nothing more in their tool bag than words and the wisdom to know where to place them on the pages. Ms. Winslow gets how to do this and has achieved a sound delivery of an intriguing who-done-it with rich character development as a result. However, her ability is not solely reserved for Mathilde. Rather, when she embellishes the frustrations and adaptations Detective Keene must learn to accept, there were periods when I wanted to step into the story, grab him by the shoulders and implore him to accept the inadequacies he now has in his life and move on. She accomplishes this premise by infusing Chloe Frohmann’s personality as temperance to Keene’s frustrations. As a result, Ms. Winslow has created a woman of substance in Chloe Frohmann’s persona. There are multiple twists to this plot which beckons the reader to pay attention. This is not to say the story is tedious and confusing as much as it is engaging. Well done Ms. Winslow. I look forward to reading your next body of work. Quill says: An enjoyable mystery with the perfect blend of intrigue supported by full-bodied and credible characters.