British Author Chris Whitaker has enjoyed much success with his novels Tall Oaks, All the Wicked Girls, The Forevers (YA), and of course, We Begin at the End, which took the world of fictional crime lovers by storm.
If you’re looking for your next intense and unforgettable read, We Begin at the End is here to remind you of the times you were so enthralled by a novel, you couldn’t bear to put it down.
Complex, intriguing, and profoundly intricate, we’re here to review this exceptional tale of outlaws, hope, loss, and family.
We Begin At The End: The Synopsis
Duchess Radley is the main protagonist of this killer crime novel, and her tale is far from ordinary. (see also: The Maid Review)
Before we dive into the complexities of Duchess Radley, let’s introduce some context – starting with Vincent King.
Vincent King went to prison for the murder of a young girl. Thirty years later, he’s released and back living in his hometown of Cape Haven, California.
Of course, the residents aren’t welcoming of King, least of all Star Radley – Vincent’s ex-girlfriend and the sister of his victim.
Duchess Radley is the daughter of Star, and she has another sibling, Robin: Duchess, aged 13, is a fierce protector of her younger brother while simultaneously trying to comfort her mother and her troubled past.
Already, we can see that the Duchess has a LOT on her plate – far more than most typical 13-year-olds have to contend with.
On top of this, Walk (Chief of Police and family friend) is haunted by King’s past – Walk and King once shared an unbreakable friendship; however, it was ripped apart in an instant when King became a killer, and Walk gave the testimony that sent his once best friend to prison.
The likes of Duchess, Star and Robin were left to fend for themselves, and Walk went into overdrive trying to protect them.
Although he became an integral part of their family unit, his efforts to protect the family seemed futile, as Duchess and her mother seemed to descend further into madness.
The family has been dealt a truly awful hand, and each part of their lives is affected by King and his senseless killing.
Duchess struggles at school – with her messy hair and ripped clothing, she becomes a prime target for the relentless bullies who set out to make her life miserable.
Duchess is an admirable character, though, and far stronger than her circumstances would lead you to believe.
Although the family is at the heart of this novel, we also have a crime beneath it all.
This gives way to We Begin at the End’s classification as a crime novel – however, we’d argue that this element sits on the back burner of the book for most of it, instead giving way to a much more complex tale – the family behind the trauma.
We Begin At The End: Complex Characters
Fictional characters who have experienced a myriad of trauma are notoriously complex, in the same way that real individuals are when they’ve lived through exceptional circumstances.
However, in the fictional world, the writer must BECOME the traumatized individuals, creeping into their skin and molding them so that they become the product of their environments and experiences.
When we have characters as complex as Duchess and Star, who have undoubtedly lived through immense trauma, it can be difficult to pull off.
However, we were left in awe at the ways that Whitaker managed to tell their stories so eloquently while maintaining such multidimensional and intriguing characters throughout the novel.
Duchess is the first complex character we meet. She is compelling, admirable, and courageous. As we learn more about her life and the abundance of tragedies that live with her, we also see her grow.
Her character development is exceptional; she begins as an angry young girl, whose anger is, of course, entirely justified, to a calmer, stronger girl who does not let her experiences define her.
Her desire to love and protect her family shines through.
At times, it’s difficult to witness – a young child carrying such a weight on their shoulders is heart-wrenching, even in the fictional world, but we know from the outset that Duchess has the character to come through it stronger than ever.
Duchess is a prime example of a parentified child, and this will no doubt strike a chord with readers who have ever found themselves in a similar position.
Even those without a relatable lived experience will find ways to relate to Duchess – it’s almost impossible not to.
Walk (who we’ve only briefly discussed) is another complex character in this story. Walk is the Sheriff and now Chief of Police, and he has his own set of trauma and guilt to deal with (If you want to read stories with themes like this, also check out What Happened To You?).
However, this is all still related to Vincent King, and Walk’s experiences offer a different perspective from the families, showing us just how complex and far-reaching King’s actions have been.
Walk is also a melancholy, multidimensional character who struggles with a quieter story – a history of physical and mental illness and the monotony of his day-to-day life.
His character is deeply influenced by King’s actions, however, his reactions, struggles, and growth are more subtle.
This adds an additional layer of depth and intrigue to his character, which Whitaker has worked hard to create. Walk’s character is a testament to Whitakers skills, and his layers of nuance echo the feel of the story.
Crime And Mystery
As we learn at the beginning of the novel, King has been released from prison after thirty years. In the present-day narrative of the story, there has been another death in the Cape Haven area.
However, it’s unclear who the killer is. If you’re intrigued by the crime aspect of this book, this is another element you’ll enjoy.
An investigation begins into the murder. However, this lives in the background of the novel, and it’s by no means the main attraction.
As the investigation continues and Walk hunts for answers (and strives to protect the family), they’re sent to live in the depths of Montana, where they must start a new life with people they’ve never met.
It’s during these tragedies (and let’s be clear, this is only one of them), that the strength of Duchess and Robin’s sibling bond comes to the forefront.
It’s always gut-wrenching to read tales of children in turmoil, even if they are fictional, but the love that these two have for each other makes it more bearable for themselves and for us as readers.
We’re left with nothing by love, respect, and awe at how these two children navigate their complex lives together. It’s a difficult but equally admirable part of the story to witness.
Setting And Place: A Few Issues
There’s no doubt that Whitaker is an exceptional writer.
The way he dives so deeply into the minds and lives of his complex characters, and pulls their emotions out of their baggage and into the hearts of its readers, is astounding.
However, setting and place are just as important as characters. Unfortunately, the two primary places in this novel (Cape Haven and Montana) are not given much description.
If you want to feel truly immersed in the world of your characters, you have to understand their environments – instead, these settings are sufficiently described, and we’re given very basic understandings of their surroundings, such as nice cars, horses, and barns.
Some Characters Don’t Feel… Well, Human
Fictional characters are just that – fictional. However, to infect the minds of their readers, they need to be human and believable.
Although Duchess’ character is remarkably written, her speech sometimes makes her feel like an entirely scripted and unbelievable character.
She often speaks in full poems or employs the same catchphrase repeatedly, which can dilute her character and distract from her experiences.
Yes, Duchess is a 13-year-old with a tragic life who may be susceptible to such behavior, however, this behavior makes her feel slightly socially unaware and naïve – it feels like Whitaker didn’t intend for this to happen.
Some aspects of her character also feel very clearly written from an adult’s perspective, without an understanding of how her interactions would be given or received amongst her peers.
In some parts of the story, her character seems to inspire her friends and make them feel in awe of her behavior, but in reality, her behavior in these situations would probably lead to embarrassment, and maybe even a bit of teasing.
The Verdict And Final Thoughts
There’s no doubt about it: We Begin at the End is an exceptional story that’s sure to break reader’s hearts, and leave them feeling emotional and inspired.
Whitaker is a fantastic writer, and this book demonstrates his talents.
Although some parts of his writing feel clunky, they aren’t too distracting from the story. If you’re a lover of all things emotional and slightly crimey, you’ll love this book. (see also: 10 Best Christian Books You’ll Love)