North West Reads Book 15: Left for Dead by Paul J. Teague
Charlotte Grayson never regretted slapping Kenny Mason across the face. He was the sort of pupil that made teacher’s lives hell, but child or no child, he was a big lad and Charlotte had finally reached the end of her tether with him. She knew full well that this spelt the end of her teaching career, but the job had taken its toll on her sanity, and she knew that she could never step back inside a classroom even if she’d wanted to. Fortunately, Mason’s parents were as awful as their son and felt that he deserved to be slapped. To them it was not something to pursue through the courts, which was a relief for Charlotte, but there were still consequences she had to face that also affected her husband, Will, and their two children, Ollie and Lucia. The loss of her income was a strain on the family finances. Bristol was too expensive a place for a single income household, so Charlotte and Will took the decision to move to Morecambe to buy and run a guesthouse, The Lakes View. Charlotte hoped the change of scene, and change of job, would help her recover physically and mentally and be less of a strain on her than teaching.
They had lived in Morecambe before as students in the mid-1980s, Will at Lancaster University and Charlotte at the Teacher Training College. Ollie and Lucia were less than impressed with the move from trendy Bristol to this seaside town that had seen better days, but it was a move that Charlotte desperately needed. The guesthouse seemed a perfect solution and one that Will hoped would help his wife recover her health. He had happy memories of Morecambe and assumed that Charlotte felt the same, however, unbeknownst to Will, Charlotte has some far darker memories of her time here. To help support their studies they had found jobs at the local holiday camp, Sandy Beaches. Charlotte was friends with Will, but he was not her boyfriend, instead she was in a relationship with a guy called Bruce Craven. He had been charming and funny when Charlotte first got together with him, but, in time, he became insanely jealous and controlling. His jealousy of Will led to an argument and then an angry pursuit of Charlotte onto the beach below the holiday camp. There he attempted to violently assault her, but she managed to knock him senseless and left him lying there. Not stopping or looking back, she fled back to her chalet in the camp. Was he alive when she left him? She didn’t know, she just wanted to get away from him and be safe. There was just one regret. During the struggle on the beach she had lost her necklace, one that was of great sentimental value as it had belonged to her late mother.
This was almost forty years ago, and Charlotte was not worried about returning to Morecambe. Sandy Beaches had closed a long time ago and the town had changed quite a bit from when they were students. The Lakes View had been closed for a short time while their purchase and subsequent redecoration went through. The reopening of the place had attracted the local newspaper, the Bay View Weekly, always on the lookout for a story in a small town to fill their pages. This bit of publicity would be useful in raising awareness that they were back in business, so with a lot of excitement and a bit of trepidation, they awaited their first guests. Thankfully they had an old hand, Isla, on board, to help and impart advice and guidance from her long years in the industry.
The publicity from the newspaper article brings some unexpected and unwelcome attention. Charlotte receives an anonymous Facebook message asking if she wants her necklace back. Could this possibly be Bruce Craven after all these years? Fear and guilt over what happened that night had stopped Charlotte from telling Will of Bruce’s attack on her, and, fearing that she had killed him all those years ago, Charlotte continued to keep quiet about it and about the message. In the meantime, Will suggests a trip up to the site of the holiday camp, revisiting the place where they first met and became a couple. Charlotte manages to keep her anxiety in check as they enter the remains of the dilapidated camp through a gap in the security fencing. To their delight they meet one of the old camp attendants from their time as staff. George had retired from his role as security at Sandy Beaches and had taken a retirement job overlooking the camp until the developers moved in. It would be flattened and replaced by retirement homes, although some remains on the site, an old stone tower, would be kept as a feature. When Will wants to see the tower Charlotte is so overcome with anxiety she flees back to the car, much to the bewilderment of her husband and George. She decides that she will return at a later time to apologise to George for her abrupt exit.
George is not the only person from her past still living in Morecambe. Jenna had been, for a while, Charlotte’s closest friend during her student and Sandy Beaches years, but they had drifted apart during that last season at the camp. The years had not been kind to Jenna. She had also stopped teaching but was cagey and elusive about what she was doing now, ‘a bit of this and a bit of that’. Charlotte realises afterwards that Jenna had talked a lot but told her very little. She was pleased for Charlotte and Will, that they had done well, and was impressed with the guest house. There was a sense that Jenna’s life had not lived up to her early expectations. Putting aside her reservations, Charlotte agrees to meet up with her again soon.
The novel alternates between the present and 1984. Sandy Beaches, as with many other British holiday camps, had been adversely affected by the growth of package holidays abroad. It would be many years before camps like this would be regenerated and updated, booking pop stars of the 60s, 70s and 80s for themed weeks. Sandy Beaches had not changed since the 50s, but there was nothing warm and nostalgic about it; the place was just very tired and out of date. Why would you go to an old-fashioned, dreary, naff holiday camp in the shadow of a nuclear power station when you could have a fortnight in Spain or Greece, and then show off your suntan and your affluent lifestyle when you got home. Will recalls the looks of disappointment on some of the faces of the new arrivals at the camp.
In the Britain of the 1980s money and prosperity were draining to the Southeast and to London. Morecambe and the Northwest contained many who were left behind in this decade. The divide amongst Sandy Beaches workers between the students and the non-student ‘townies’ reflected this growing division. The predominantly middle-class students, who at this time were entitled to free higher education and maintenance grants, benefitted from the same taxpayer’s money as the non-student seasonal workers in receipt of social security benefits; however, the future prospects of the students vastly outdid that of the non-students. There were tensions between ‘town’ and ‘gown’ that occasionally surfaced in the odd resentful or sarcastic remark. Will, Charlotte and Jenna were confident of long, successful and reasonably renumerated jobs and the comfortable lives that went with them. For their other colleagues, Micky, Abi and Bruce, lives were tougher, opportunities fewer in number and personal confidence very low. Determined not to be seen as yet another stuck up, privileged student, Will gives help and support to Abi with her maths exams. Although not at all interested romantically in Abi, her flirty behaviour with Will would have some unforeseen consequences that would ripple down to his and Charlotte’s present day lives.
When Will starts his job at Sandy Beaches he is paired with Charlotte to learn the ropes. A jealous Bruce, who worked in the kitchens, corners Will later on and bluntly warns him off having any involvement with Charlotte. But he and Charlotte had hit it off immediately and no amount of threats were going to stop their blossoming relationship. Charlotte had already realised that she needed to be free of Bruce but felt trapped by him. Now she had some support from Will she could build up the courage to end the relationship, but this was never going to easy with a man like Bruce. The tension and rivalry between the three of them would eventually lead to the confrontation on the beach.
Afterwards Bruce just disappeared, and in the time before mobile phones and social media, people could just disappear and not be heard from again. The thought that Bruce could have returned all these years later fills Charlotte with dread and she is worried that her mental health is about to take a downturn again, putting strain on her and her marriage. Charlotte receives further Facebook messages from the mysterious stranger, then there are noises heard downstairs at the guest house, assumed to be Isla except that Isla arrives later that morning. Then Charlotte finds out that an ‘old guy’ with heavily tattooed arms had approached Lucia outside the school gates and knew her name. Eventually she knows that she cannot keep her past hidden from Will, however Will has some secrets of his own . . .
Fear for her sanity, her safety and the safety of her children drive Charlotte, and then Will, to some extreme actions; not the best of starts for their new life in Morecambe. Uncertainty over what actually happened to Bruce in 1984 stops Charlotte and Will from going to the police unless they absolutely have to; there is nothing for it but to confront the mysterious messenger and confront the past before harm befalls herself and her family. What began on a dark and blustery night in 1984 will come to its denouement almost forty years on where the secrets and lies of the past finally come to light.
Paul Teague worked at the former Pontin’s Holiday Park at Middleton near Heysham and Morecambe when a student at Lancaster University in the 1980s and he draws extensively from his familiarity with the area and the times to produce this enjoyable thriller which is the first of a series of novels set in Morecambe. After many years of decline, Morecambe has slowly been undergoing a regeneration, set to accelerate with the upcoming Eden Project.
Written by Janet - Library Assistant
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