Ravenstor, the Peak District. The early hours of New Year's Day. A young woman stands on the shore of a frozen lake and watches a Land Rover crash off a bridge and through the ice. Two hundred miles away, a young man is woken by a devastating telephone call. The accident, and what it brings to the surface, will change both of their lives forever. Jawbone Lake is both a heart-stopping literary thriller, and a moving meditation on family, generational divide and the dangers of living a double life. Alive with the lyrical evocation of landscape that is Robinson's forte, it is an astonishing new work of fiction from one of our finest writers.
Credit: film by Adrian Briscoe Voice: Emma Lannie
"Ray Robinson is an author with a mission. His three previous novels have all been deeply driven explorations of the damage humans do each other and themselves, and the effects that ripple out into wider society.
Jawbone Lake, like Robinson’s previous books Electricity and The Man Without, begins with the sudden death of a parent. It’s New Year’s Eve in Ravenstor, a town in the snowbound Peak District. CJ Arms, businessman and local character, is driving home when his Land Rover veers off the bridge and into the frozen lake.
The incident is witnessed by a young woman, Rabbit, who not only sees that this was no accident, but is spotted by the man who caused the crash and must flee into the woods to escape him. Her panicked anonymous call to the police only serves to heighten the tension and hasten the reprisals.
Unlike the repellent Val O’Connor, the mother dispatched in the opening frames of Robinson’s first two novels, Arms has only ever been a hero to his son Joe: “He was a handsome devil. Women looked at him when he walked down the street. He would always smile back, a swagger in his step … Everybody loved him.” Arms made his money running a foreign exchange in Spain. Not Joe, his grandfather Bill, nor mother Eileen know exactly what this business entailed, and it is the unravelling of this that reveals how little CJ’s kin really knew about him.
Arms is lost and remains so – the police cannot locate him within the lake. So, aided by Bill, Joe undertakes his own investigation, retracing his father’s footsteps. First to Spain, where he discovers what bad company Arms was keeping; then to Hastings, where the bonds that ultimately doomed him were forged. Meanwhile, the secrets kept by the anonymous witness are bearing down on her.
Rabbit was pulled to the lake by grief – the cot death of her infant son and the feelings engendered by the proximity to the water that remind her of how it felt to have carried him inside her. There is a duality of memory here, for Jawbone Lake is a manmade construct that involved the flooding of a village where Rabbit’s family once lived. For her it is already a conduit between the living and the dead, even before she sees Arms crash through the ice. Orphaned young, Rabbit (real name Rebecca) lives with her aunt Cass and works at a mind-numbing factory job. She blots out pain with mental arithmetic, calculating the number of hours she has spent “brushing knots from her stupid bloody hair”. Her best friend, shell-suited, snaggle-toothed Frankie, enlivens the gloom with his supply of skunk, while the luminous Kate, working shifts to fund university studies, provides potent physical distraction. But while Rabbit is bonding with Kate, Kate’s mother is providing both a shoulder for Eileen Arms to cry on and a whispering tongue to poison her ear. Worse still, Rabbit is stalked by the man she outran on New Year’s Eve, and his trigger finger is itching.
Robinson brings his characters alive by the evocation of their expansive inner worlds, the reaction of each to the events that spiral out from Jawbone Lake. Even the landscape of the Peaks colludes in the shifting of perspectives, slowly revealing more secrets to the intertwined protagonists.
This novel resounds long after the mesmerising final sentence completes its circle. On the surface, it’s a literary thriller. But Robinson uses the frame of taut, compulsive storytelling to reveal infinite space beyond – the fathoms that lie between us."