69 pages 2 hours read

Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in 2011, I Let You Go is Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel. In 2016 it won Theakson’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. That same year, the French translation won Best International Novel at the Cognac Festival Prix du Polar Awards. In 2017, publisher Little, Brown said it had sold more than one million copies. Mackintosh spent 12 years in the police force before becoming a writer. She has said that a real-life news item in Oxford and the death of her own infant son helped her write the book. In this contemporary mystery, a five-year-old boy’s mother attempts to escape her past, but in the end, she must fight for her freedom—and her life.


Plot Summary:

The novel opens in a prologue describing a terrible accident. A mother lets go of her son Jacob’s hand, and a car strikes him with such force the boy’s body hits the windshield. The driver races away. The incident catches the public imagination because of the horror of the death of the child and the fact that the driver cannot be found. A team of Bristol Criminal Investigation Division (CID) detectives, led by Ray Stevens and younger police officer Kate Evans, are assigned to solve the crime. As they work the case, devastated young mother Jenna Gray escapes to the Welsh coast to deal with her grief.

Told from the first person in shifting points of view, readers follow Jenna’s road to recovery as well as the investigation in England. She rents a small house in Penfach, Wales and begins making money with beach photography; she rescues a dog and meets the kind and gentle Patrick Matthews. All the while, she deals with the feelings brought on by Jacob’s death, but it gets easier as time goes on. A year after the boy’s death, an anniversary appeal from CID yields clues that lead to the child’s killer. They track Jenna down and arrest her.

The biggest plot twist in the book is that Jenna is not, after all, Jacob’s mother—she is the murderer. In fact, Jenna is suffering from much more than grief. Her feelings also encompass post-traumatic stress disorder and guilt, as well as grief over both Jacob’s death and that of her own child.


The second part of the book adds a new perspective—that of Ian Peterson, Jenna’s husband. As Jenna goes back and forth from court, and as Ray and Kate’s team uncover additional evidence that makes Jenna’s guilt seem less than assured, readers realize that Jenna is an abused woman. Flashbacks from Ian’s perspective and present-day encounters tell the true story. Ian eventually learns where Jenna has been hiding, which leads to scenes of violence where Jenna is terrorized by her former husband. She also gets shunned from her new community and has uncomfortable experiences with protestors at court.

Meanwhile, subplots swirl around Ray and Kate, who find themselves attracted to one another. Mags Stevens, former cop and Ray’s wife, must deal with a loss of identity and a problem son by herself because Ray keeps prioritizing work over his home life. Yet it is Mags who helps identify a symbol on a blue business card that Jenna once carried, leading to a breakthrough that reveals the entire sordid story to the police. They realize that Ian Peterson is the villain of the piece. Jenna, who is clearly in danger from him, wasn’t even the driver that fateful night. It was Ian who struck the child and left quickly while driving Jenna’s car.


Jenna is just settling into a false sense of security following her exoneration in court when Ian comes once more to punish her for “telling” on him, even though she had no role in helping the police find out about him. The story ends with a tense encounter on the Welsh headlands, in which Jenna fights for her life and succeeds in pushing Ian off a cliff. However, his body is not found. Also, the scars clearly remain—though, like waters on the sand, they may disappear with time.