By C. J. Cooke
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On a small Greek island, a woman comes ashore with no memory of who she is, where she’s from, or how she came to be shipwrecked there. Worse, she has no way of leaving. As she’s nursed back to health by the island’s only inhabitants, four friends on an annual retreat, she detects tensions between the group that suggest not all is quite as it seems. Her new acquaintances each appear to be hiding something–something that may relate to the mystery of her identity.
Meanwhile, in a pretty suburb on the outskirts of London, Eloise, the mother of a newborn and a toddler, vanishes into thin air. Her husband, Lochlan, is desperate to find her–but as the police look into the disappearance, it becomes clear that Lochlan and Eloise’s marriage was not the perfect union it appeared.
As Lochlan races to discover his wife’s whereabouts, Eloise enacts an investigation of her own. What both discover will place lives at risk and upend everything they thought they knew about their marriage, their past, and what lies in store for the future.
The Girl on the Beach
March 17, 2015
Komméno Island, 8.4 Miles Northwest of Crete
I’m woken by the sounds of feet shuffling by my ears and voices knitting together in panic.
Is she dead? What should we do? Joe! You know CPR, don’t you?
A weight presses down against my lips. The bitter smell of cigarettes rushes up to my nostrils. Hot breath inflates my cheeks. A push downward on my chest. Another. I jerk upright, vomiting what feels like gallons of disgusting salty liquid. Someone rubs my back and says, Take it easy, sweetie. That’s it.
I twist to one side and lower my forehead to the ground, coughing, choking. My hair is wet, my clothes are soaking, and I’m shaking with cold. Someone helps me to my feet and pulls my right arm limply across a broad set of shoulders. A yellow splodge on the floor comes into focus: it’s a life jacket. Mine? The man holding me upright lowers me gently into a chair. I hear their voices as they observe me, instructing each other on how to care for me.
Is that blood in her hair?
Joe, have a look. Has the bleeding stopped?
It looks quite deep, but I think it’s stopped. I’ve got some antiseptic swabs upstairs.
My head starts to throb, a dull pain toward the right. A cup of coffee materializes on the table in front of me. The smell winds upward and sharpens my vision, bringing the people in the room into view. There’s a man nearby, panting from effort. Another man with black square glasses. Two others, both women. One of them leans over me and says, You OK, hun? I nod, dumbly. She comes into focus. Kind eyes. Well, Joe, she says. Looks like you saved her life.
I don’t recognize any of these people. I don’t know where I am. Whitewashed stone walls and a pretty stone floor. A kitchen, I think. Copper pots and pans hang from ceiling hooks, an old-fashioned black range oven visible at my right. I feel as though all energy has been sucked out of me, but the woman who gave me coffee urges me to keep awake. We need to check you over, sweetie. There’s an American lilt in her voice. I don’t think I noticed that before. She says, You’ve been unconscious for a while.
The younger man with black glasses tells me he’s going to check out my head. He steps behind me and all of a sudden I feel something cold and stinging on my scalp. I gasp in pain. Someone squeezes my hand and tells me he’s cleaning the wound. He looks over a spot above my eyebrow and cleans it, too, though he tells me it’s only a scratch.
The man who hoisted me into the chair sits opposite. Bald, heavyset. Mid to late forties. Cockney. He takes a cigarette from a packet, plops it into his mouth, and lights it.
You come from the main island?
Main island? I say, my voice a croak.
From there to here on her own? the younger man says. There’s no way she’d have managed in that storm.
I think that’s the point, Joe, the bald guy says. She’s lucky her boat didn’t capsize before it hit the beach.
The woman who served me coffee brings a chair and sits at my right.
I’m Sariah, she says. Good to meet you. Then, to the others in the room, Well, she’s awake now. Why don’t we stop being rude and introduce ourselves?
The guy with glasses gives a wave.
George, says the bald man. I’m the one who found you.
Silence. Joe turns to the thin woman at his right, expectant. She seems nervous. Hazel, she says, her voice no more than an exhalation.
You got a name? George asks me.
My mind is blank. I look over the faces of the others, fitting their faces to these names, and yet my own won’t come. I feel physically weak and battered, but I’m lucid and able to think clearly.
It’s OK, sweetie, Sariah is saying, rubbing my shoulders. You’ve had a rough time. Take it easy. It’ll come.
You holidaying on the main island? George asks again.
My head feels like someone is pounding it with a hammer. I’m sorry…what is the main island?
Crete, Sariah answers. Whereabouts were you staying?
You staying with family? A group of girlfriends? the guy with glasses asks. Hey, she might have come from one of the other islands. Antikythera?
I don’t think so, offers the tiny woman with red curly hair—Hazel—in a low voice. The currents between here and Antikythera are worse than traveling to Crete. And Antikythera is farther.
I’m sorry, I say. Did someone say I’m in Crete?
See? George says.
No, no, I try to say, but Joe cuts me off.
She asked if she’s in Crete, Joe answers. This is Komméno, not Crete.
Well, we’ll need to let whoever you’ve left behind know that you’re still in one piece, George says. You got a number I can ring?
He pulls a small black phone from a pocket and extends an antenna from the top. Crete. Was I staying there?
I can’t remember, I say finally. Sorry, I don’t know.
The kind woman, Sariah, is holding my hand. We’ll call the police on Crete the second we get a signal on the satellite phone. Don’t worry, sweetie.
The big guy—George—is still watching me, his eyes narrowed. Where are you from, then?
I’m light-headed and nauseous, but I think I should know this. It’s ridiculous, but I can’t even call it to mind. Why can’t I remember it? I try to think of faces of my family, people I love—but there’s a complete blankness in whatever part of my brain holds that information.
George is leaning on one hand, taking slow, thoughtful drags from a fresh cigarette, studying me. The others are halfway through cups of tea. I have no recollection of anyone putting cups out or boiling a kettle. Time lurches and stalls. I rise from my chair and almost fall over. My legs are jelly. Sariah moves to hold me up.
The large window at the other side of the kitchen frames a round moon in a purple sky, its glow bleaching fields and hills. A burst of light crackles across the ocean, lighting up the room. A few moments later thunder pounds the roof, rattling all the pots and pans. I am disoriented and weak. I begin to shake again, but this time it’s from shock.
Sariah wraps an arm around me. We’re going to move you into the other room, OK? Deep breaths.
But before we have a chance to move, I hear a deep voice say, Maybe she’s a refugee.
Sariah hisses, George!
He gives a loud bellow of laughter. It makes me jump.
I’m joking, aren’t I?
Pressure builds and builds in my head until I’m gasping for air and clawing at my throat. The two women lean forward and tell me to breathe, and I’m trying. They ask me to tell them what’s wrong but I can’t speak. Someone says, We need to think about getting her to a hospital.
March 17, 2015
George Street, Edinburgh
Lochlan: I’m having afternoon tea with a client at The Dome when my phone rings. It’s an important meeting—Mr. Coyle is interested in setting up a venture capital fund to invest in some new technological companies—and so I pull it out of my pocket and hit “cancel.”
“Sorry about that.”
Mr. Coyle arches an eyebrow. “Your wife?”
It was, actually. Right before I hit “cancel” I saw her name appear on the screen.
“No, no. Anyway, what were we saying?”
I pour us both some red. “Ah, yes. This company’s creating something similar, only better. It integrates seamlessly with new social media platforms and user trials have rated it at five stars. The first product is scheduled to retail for around five hundred pounds in September.”
My phone rings again. This time Mr. Coyle gives a noise of irritation. “ELOÏSE” appears in white letters on the screen. I make to hit “cancel” again, but Mr. Coyle gives a shooing gesture with his hand and says, “Answer it. Tell her we’re busy.”
I stand up and walk to the nearest window.
“El, what is it? I’m in a meeting…”
“Lochlan? Is that you, dear?”
The woman at the other end of the line is not my wife. She continues talking, and it takes a few moments for me to place the voice.
It’s the Yorkshirewoman who lives opposite us.
“…and I thought I’d best check. So when I opened the door I was surprised to see—are you still there?”
From the corner of my eye I see Mr. Coyle hailing a waitress.
“Mrs. Shahjalal, is everything all right? Where’s Eloïse?”
A long pause. “That’s what I’m telling you, dear. I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“It’s like I said: the man from the UPS van brought the parcel over to me and asked if I’d take it as nobody was in. And I thought that was strange, because I was sure I’d seen little Max’s face at the window only a moment before. So I took the parcel, and then an hour or so later I saw Max again, and I thought I’d best go over and see if everything was all right. Max was able to stand on a chair and let me in.”
I’m struggling to put this all together in my mind. Mr. Coyle is rising from his chair, putting on his jacket. I turn and raise a hand to let him know I’ll be just a second, but he grimaces.
“OK, so Max let you into our house. What happened when you went inside?”
“Well, Eloïse still isn’t here. I’ve been here since three o’clock and the little one’s mad for a feed. I found Eloïse’s mobile phone on the coffee table and pressed a button, and luckily enough it dialed your number.”
The rustling and mewling noises in the background grow louder, and I realize Mrs. Shahjalal must be holding Cressida, my daughter. She’s twelve weeks old. Eloïse is still breastfeeding her.
“So…Eloïse isn’t in the house. She’s not there at all?” It’s a stupid thing to say, but I can’t quite fathom it. Where else would she be?
Mr. Coyle glowers from the table. He straightens his tie before turning to walk out, and I lower the phone and call after him.
He doesn’t acknowledge me.
“I’ll send the fact sheet by e-mail!”
Mrs. Shahjalal is still talking. “It’s very odd, Lochlan. Max is dreadfully upset and doesn’t seem to know where she’s gone. I don’t know what to do.”
I walk back to the table and gather up my briefcase. The brass clock on the chimney breast reads quarter past four. I could catch the four thirty to London if I manage to get a taxi on time, but it’s a four-and-a-half-hour train ride from here and then another cab ride from King’s Cross to Twickenham. I’ll not be home until after ten.
“I’m heading back right now,” I tell Mrs. Shahjalal.
“Are you in the city, dear?”
“I’m in Edinburgh.”
Outside, the street is busy with traffic and people. I’m agitated, trying to think fast, and almost get knocked over by a double-decker bus driving close to the curb. I jump back, gasping at the narrow escape. A group of schoolkids on a school trip meander across the pavement in single file. I wave at a black taxi and manage to get him to stop.
“To Waverley, please.”
I ask Mrs. Shahjalal if she can stay with Max and Cressida until I get back. To my relief she says she will, though I can barely hear her now over Cressida’s screams.
“She needs to be fed, Mrs. Shahjalal.”
“Well, I know that, dear, but my days of being able to nurse a baby are over.”
“If you go into the fridge, there might be some breast milk in a plastic container on the top shelf. It’ll be labeled. I think Eloïse keeps baby bottles in one of the cupboards near the toaster. Make sure you put the bottle into the sterilizer in the microwave for four minutes before you use it. Make sure there’s water in the bottom.”
“Sterilize the breast milk?”
I can hear Max in the background now, shouting, “Is that Daddy? Daddy, is that you?” I ask Mrs. Shahjalal to put him on.
“Max, Maxie boy?”
“Hi, Daddy. Can I have some chocolate, please?”
“I’ll buy you as much chocolate as you can eat if you tell me where Mummy is.”
“As much chocolate as I can eat? All of it?”
“Where is Mummy, Max?”
“Can I have a Kinder egg, please?”
“Did Mummy go out this morning? Did someone come to the house?”
“I think she went to the Natural History Museum, Daddy, ’cos she likes the dinosaurs there and the big one that’s very long is called Dippy, he’s called Dippy ’cos he’s a diplodocus, Daddy.”
I’m getting nowhere. I ask him to put me back on to Mrs. Shahjalal, who is still wondering how she is to sterilize the breast milk, and all the while Cressida is drilling holes in my head by screaming down the phone.
Finally, I’m on the train, posting on Facebook.
I don’t usually do this but…anyone know where Eloïse is? She doesn’t seem to be at home…
Night falls like a black sheath. The taxi pulls into Potter’s Lane. We live in a charming Edwardian semi in the quiet suburb of Twickenham, close to all the nice parks and the part of the river inhabited by swans, frogs, and ducks, and close enough to London for Saturday-afternoon visits to the National History Museum and Kew Gardens. A few lights are on in the houses near us, but our neighbors are either retired or hardworking professionals, and so nights are placid round here.
I pay the driver and jump out onto the pavement. Eloïse’s white Qashqai is parked in the driveway in front of my Mercedes, and my hearts leaps. I’ve been on and off the phone to Mrs. Shahjalal during the train ride from Edinburgh, checking in on the kids and trying to work out what the hell to do about the situation. Mrs. Shahjalal is very old and forgetful. More than once El has climbed through the window to open the front door because she locked her keys inside. In all likelihood this is a big mistake; I’ve lost a client while El’s been upstairs having a shower or something. I ran out of battery on my phone some time ago and all the power points on the train were broken. Mrs. Shahjalal hasn’t been able to contact me. But the Qashqai’s here. Eloïse must have arrived back already.
I turn my key in the door and step inside to quietness and darkness.
I head into the playroom and see the figure of old Mrs. Shahjalal sitting on the edge of the sofa, rocking the Moses basket where Cressida is lying, arms raised at right angles by her tiny head.
“Hi,” I whisper. “Where is she?”
Mrs. Shahjalal shakes her head.
“But…she’s here,” I say. “Her car is outside. Where is she?”
“She isn’t here.”
Mrs. Shahjalal raises a finger to her lips and looks down at Cressida in a manner that suggests it has taken a long time to settle her to sleep. Cressida gives a little shuddered breath, the kind she gives after a long paroxysm of wailing.
“Max is upstairs, in his bed,” Mrs. Shahjalal says in a low voice.
“But what about El’s car? The white one in the driveway?”
“It’s been here all the time. She didn’t take it.”
I race upstairs and check the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the attic, then switch on all the lights downstairs and sift the rooms for my wife. When that proves fruitless I head out into the garden and stare into the darkness. In that moment a daunting impossibility yawns wide. I barely know Mrs. Shahjalal, save a few neighborly waves across the street, and now she’s in my living room, gently rocking my daughter and telling me that my wife has vanished into thin air.
I take out my phone and begin to dial.
March 17, 2015
Komméno Island, Greece
Somehow I find myself in a rocking chair with a thick orange blanket around me, next to a crackling fire. My right sleeve is rolled up and someone’s tied a belt tight around my bicep. The tall skinny bloke with glasses, Joe, is standing next to me with a cold instrument pressed to my wrist. The room smells funny—like seaweed. Or maybe that’s me.
“Only a couple more seconds,” he says.
“What are you doing?” I say, though it comes out as a strangled whine. The inside of my mouth feels like sandpaper.
“Checking your blood pressure.”
There’s a heated discussion going on among the others in the room and I sense it’s about me. I still feel queasy and limp.
Eventually he removes the belt from my arm. “Hmmm. Your blood pressure is a bit low for my liking. How about the tightness in your chest?”
I tell him that it seems OK but that I’m weak as dishwater. He reaches forward and gently presses his thumbs on my cheeks to inspect my eyes.
“You’re in shock. Little wonder, given that you rowed across the Aegean in a full-blown storm. Let’s get your feet raised up. And some more water.”
The woman—Sariah—lifts my feet and supports them on a stack of cushions.
“How’s your head?” she asks.
“Sore,” I say weakly.
“You don’t feel like you’re going to pass out again?” Joe asks, and I give a small shake of my head. It’s enough to make the pain ratchet up to an agony that leaves me breathless.
“It’s after midnight, so getting you to a hospital has proved a little tricky,” Sariah says, folding her arms. I notice she has a different accent than the others. American, or maybe Canadian. “There’s no hospital or doctors anywhere here,” she says. “George has contacted the police in Heraklion and Chania.”
“Did anyone report me as missing?”
“I’m afraid not.”
She must see how this unnerves me because she lowers on her haunches and rubs my hand, as though I’m a child. “Hey, don’t worry,” she says. “We’ll call again first thing in the morning.”
Nothing about this place feels familiar. It feels like I’m seeing everything here for the first time.
“Do I live here? Do I know any of you?” I ask her.
“We saved you,” George says flatly. I can’t see him, but sense his presence behind me.
“There was a storm,” Joe adds, though something in his voice sounds uncertain, hesitant. “Big sandstorm coming across from Africa, no doubt. George and I went out to check that our boat hadn’t come loose from its moorings. And then we saw you.”
“Where was I?”
“On Bone Beach,” Joe says.
“The small horseshoe beach with white rocks that look like bones. Down below the barn.” He grins. “Crazy that you managed to survive all that. Someone up there must like you.”
“You were in a boat,” Sariah explains. “You don’t remember if you were with anybody?”
I have a terrible feeling that I should know all of this, that I should know all about the boat and the beach and where I’m from. And I have no idea, absolutely no clue, why I don’t know these things.
“Why did you come to Komméno, anyway?” George asks, moving to the light as he reaches for a pack of cigarettes. “I mean, it’s not like there’s anything here.”
“What’s ‘Komméno’?” I say.
“It’s the name of this place,” Sariah says, a note of sadness in her voice, as if she’s addressing someone very stupid, or ill. “Komméno Island.”
I hesitate, hopeful that an answer to George’s question will surface in me automatically and provide an explanation for all this.
But it doesn’t.
March 18, 2015
Potter’s Lane, Twickenham, London
Lochlan: It’s after midnight. My wife is officially missing. I’m trying to get my head around this.
The facts are as follows: (1) I Facetimed Eloïse on Monday night shortly after seven while she was making pancakes in the kitchen and our two kids were playing happily in the family room, and (2) sometime between ten and one today, while our children were asleep in their beds upstairs, she disappeared from our home. Also, (3) there is no indication that anyone has been here, Max didn’t see anyone come in, and (4) Eloïse’s clothes, passport, credit cards, car, driving license, and mobile phone are still at home. She has therefore no way of making contact and no way of paying to get anywhere: not the tube, not a taxi, not a flight, and no way of paying for food or drink. Lastly, (5) no one seems to have any clue where she might have gone.
We have run out of expressed breast milk. I’m so out of sorts that Cressida shrieked for an eternity until it dawned on me that she was probably due another feed. An hour ago I phoned a taxi company and paid them fifty quid to go and buy some formula milk at a supermarket and bring it here. Cressida was a little confused at first, both by having to suck a plastic teat again and by the weird taste of formula, but finally she relented and drained it in one sitting.
Mrs. Shahjalal has gone home. She lives alone at number thirty-nine, across the road. She has offered to come again in the morning and help in any way she can. Right now, I’m mired in bewilderment and can’t think straight.
On the train from Waverley I set about contacting Eloïse’s friends to see if anyone had heard from her. Of course, they’d seen neither hide nor hair of her since yesterday or the day before. My Facebook post was met with weeping emojis and well-wishing; in other words, nothing of any use. With great reluctance, I texted Gerda, Eloïse’s grandmother, to ask if El had gone to their place in Ledbury. It was a long shot, of course, given that the kids were still here, but I had quickly run out of possibilities.
I’ve searched the whole house four or five times in total. Wardrobes, the bathroom closet, that weird space under the stairs, even under the beds and in the loft, then running around in the back garden with a torch, checking all the bushes and the shed. I guess I thought she might have got stuck somewhere. I felt like I was going insane. All of this whilst Max was running around after me asking if we were playing a game and could he hide, too, and whilst Cressida realized she was being held by someone other than her mother and wanted half of London to know all about it.
Gerda rang back to say no, she hadn’t seen El since last week, though she spoke to her on Sunday night. She started to ask questions and I stammered something about El not being home when I got back this afternoon. There was a long pause.
“What do you mean, El’s not home? Where are you, Lochlan?”
“I’m back in London.”
“And where are the babies?”
“Lochlan, are you saying Eloïse has left?”
- "Haunting ... mysterious."—Entertainment Weekly (13 Books to Read in January)
- "C. J. Cooke's I KNOW MY NAME is an astonishing thriller of lost memories, a lost wife and mother, and remarkable discoveries. With resonant themes, gorgeous writing and a stunning conclusion, this novel has catapulted onto my shortlist of the best suspense novels I've read all year."—Chevy Stevens, New York Times bestselling author of Still Missing
- "Smart and intense, C. J. Cooke's I KNOW MY NAME is a masterfully written thriller that will lead you on a surprising journey. You won't be able to put this captivating book down."—Sara Blaedel, #1 international bestseller of the Louise Rick series
- "Two stories-- two baffling mysteries... And when they come together, that's when the surprises really start. Gripping and tense. This is a book you will recommend to your friends."—R.L. Stine, New York Times bestselling author of the Goosebumps and Fear Street series
"An atmospheric, mysterious and intense read that resonates long after you turn the last page. It's a stunning psychological thriller, rich with mystery and full of heart."
—C. L. Taylor, internationally bestselling author of The Lie and Before I Wake
- "Chilling and intelligent."—Nuala Ellwood, internationally bestselling author of My Sister's Bones
- "Intense, thrilling and layered with issues of modern life, this is grip-lit at its best."—ELLE (UK)
- "Cooke's concern for her subject matter as well as her characters shines through her crisp writing, and her novel takes on a layer of emotion not always found in psychological thrillers. A fast-paced novel that deftly strikes at the heart of what it means to survive traumatic personal and familial ruptures."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Cooke keeps the suspense high as the endangered castaway struggles to survive while back in London Eloïse's family hunts for her with increasing desperation."—Publishers Weekly
- "This psychological-suspense debut will appeal to fans of Mary Kubica, S. J. Watson, and B. A. Paris."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Sep 25, 2018
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing