True Murder, By Yaba Badoe

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The Independent Culture

"Even now, after all these years, I can hardly bear to look in a mirror," is the opening line of this dark, atmospheric, densely patterned novel. Ghanaian pre-teenager Ajuba is sent to boarding school in Devon. A lonely, confused child, she befriends the charismatic Polly Venus, who talks entirely in transatlantic clichés ("Hallo?", "That totally sucks!", "You just don't get it, do you?"). Exploring the attic of Polly's house they find a bundle of what they take to be kitten bones. But they're not. They are the bones of babies.

Inspired by their reading of the magazine True Murder, the pair form "Crimebusters" to solve the mystery; but the past tragedy which they make a game of investigating is an ironic foreshadowing of the tragedies looming over them and their families.

Badoe captures the acute sensitivities, the intense emotions and the imperfect understanding of pre-adolescence perfectly. One of the few novels about children for adults, this stands comparison with LP Hartley's The Go-Between in its evocative account of the way a few months of childhood can shape a whole life.