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Russell Celyn Jones: Ten Seconds From The Sun

Raymond Greenland seems happily married to Lily. They have two children: Flora and Eliot. He works on river boats, navigating them up and down the Thames. Lily runs a dating agency for professionals. What she and the children do not know is that Ray is really Mark Swain, a convicted murderer.

He committed the murder when he was twelve. When he was released, because his case was so famous, he was given a new identity. He spent four years on parole and established a good relationship with Tom Reeves, his probation officer, so much so that he even took over Tom’s story as his own, After four years he was free to carry on with his life, only with the proviso that if he committed certain offences, he would go straight back to prison. One of those offences was marrying without informing his probation officer or telling his spouse about his past.

Initially, we do not know who he murdered or why but it gradually is revealed. We also gradually learn about his decidedly murky childhood, his time in prison and his life after prison before he met Lily. We are also following his current life. He seems to have a good relationship with his wife’s family (two brothers, married, whom he regularly sees, mother and handicapped father). He is happy piloting boats down the Thames,

There are various concerns, apart from the obvious one that he has broken the rules. (He has also broken another rule – travelling abroad without permission, when he and Lily went to Iceland, which they did not enjoy.) The first concern is that people recognise him. They do to know where they recognise him from. One man thinks they were at school together, a celebrity-impressed woman thinks he is an actor. Clearly we are being warned that this is going to become a real problem.

The other issue is that people ask him about his childhood, his parents and sister, and his schooling. These people include his brothers-in-law. While he has his story covered, there are details he has not thought of. For example, one of his brothers-in-law asks him whether his parents were buried or cremated. He had to quickly come up with an answer and then add details of the scattering of the ashes. Another man went to the same school he claims to have attended and starts discussing details of the teachers and locals.

One other issue is that he has a violent streak. Obviously we know this from the murder but it does appear several times throughout the book and is yet another warning Celyn Jones seems to be giving us. Repeat offenders and habitual criminals are closed down inside, lost to the world, as good as dead. Except they are not and as long as they are alive they remain cancers on the vine. Anger is their only emotion and goes on for ever he comments.

Inevitably, his past does catch up with him and the second half of the book is about he deals with this and how it affects not only him but his family.

There have quite a few films with the theme of the main character, usually a man, having a hidden past. Imdb has a list. Doubtless there have been a few books about this but this book takes an interesting approach in that the story is told entirely from the perspective of the man with the past. He does feel remorse and guilt but, at the same time, he seems more concerned about keeping his secret hidden from his family, whatever the cost, and takes risks to do so, i.e. breaking the rules about marrying, having children and travelling abroad without telling the authorities and, indeed, without telling his wife about his past before they marry. We also know he has a violent streak, so he is certainly no saint.

We do find out about his past and while there can be no justification for the murder he committed, there is a sort of explanation. Celyn Jones’ skill is to keep us, more or less, on Ray’s side during the book, though all the while feeling some sympathy for his family and his victim.

Publishing history

First published 2005 by Little, Brown