I’d love to give each of these its own review, but I have so many posts in the queue that I need to get some of them out of the way, so here’s a round-up of three good thrillers I read recently and why I’d recommend them.
I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers
Michael is a writer: specifically an immersion journalist, which means he gets to know his subjects intimately and then writes their stories as if he was never there. Not only does this give him an in-depth understanding of lots of people’s lives, it also allows him to share them with the world. But he’s rarely held his own thoughts and feelings up to a spotlight.
Then his wife, an investigative journalist for a TV channel, is killed while she’s covering a story. Not wanting to live in the home they’d recently built together, Michael moves back to London with the aim of getting back to work. This he does, creating a new manuscript about a fascinating psychologist called Oliver; but he can’t shirk a social life forever, so he gets to know his next-door neighbours.
Josh and Samantha are a warm, friendly couple with two young daughters. Michael is soon enveloped into their family, dropping in often for dinner, sharing walks on Hampstead Heath, receiving drawings from the girls. But then tragedy strikes, and all of them are so wrapped up in their own lies that it’s hard to work out exactly where they entangle with each other’s.
The book opens with a version of one of my favourite poems:
I confess that the inclusion of this poem made me think something was going to happen that didn’t (trying to describe this without spoilers…): I thought the perpetrator had been seen on the stairs by the victim, and that the victim would therefore say this to someone. As it turned out, the victim didn’t survive even long enough to croak out a final few words, and I spent several fruitless pages wondering if this would happen.
Other than that, though, the book ticked along rather nicely. It was by no stretch of the imagination the most gripping thriller I’ve ever read, but it had a steady storyline and some interesting character relationships. The concepts of guilt and innocence were fairly complex: the perpetrator wasn’t really a perpetrator, as such, so much as a witness, and the other ‘guilty’ party might not have been able to stop the death happening even if they’d been where they were meant to be at the time.
It is, in summary, the kind of book that will make you think lightly but interestingly about some fairly important topics. A good weekend read.
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
Laurel’s life changed irretrievably when her youngest daughter Ellie went missing at fifteen. Stepping out of the house to go to the library, she’d only taken with her a rucksack with the most basic of provisions, and nothing in her life pointed to her running away.
Over a decade on, Laurel and her family still don’t have any answers. Learning to live with the question hanging over them has been hard, but they’ve carried on with their lives and none of them really believe they’ll ever know what happened to Ellie.
Then Laurel meets Floyd, a man she likes from the minute he walks into the coffee shop where she’s idling away some time. Having Floyd around makes Laurel feel vaguely normal again, and even her aging mother approves of the change, showing more enthusiasm for Laurel’s love life than she’s shown for anything in years.
But something seems a bit off. Although Laurel deeply likes Floyd – maybe even loves him – her son’s girlfriend Blue is suspicious. And there are things that appear a little strange: just how much Floyd reminds her of her ex-husband, right down to the Paul Smith socks; and how uncannily like her missing child his daughter Poppy is, in appearance and personality both. But nothing weird could be going on… could it?
This wasn’t very twisty, but it was juicily dark. I like a book that doesn’t shy away from things that might make the average reader recoil in their seat, and this is one of those (twenty cages of dead hamsters in the basement, anyone?) It didn’t creep me out as much as it perhaps could have done if the writing style had been a little more suspenseful, but I did relish its darkness and I’d recommend it if you like reading things that are a bit fucked up.
The Secret Place by Tana French
I adored In The Woods, enjoyed its sequel The Likeness, and then was recently less enamoured with The Trespasser.
With The Secret Place, however, I felt Tana French was returning to form. The Trespasser hadn’t gripped me mainly because the characters didn’t feel very relatable, but The Secret Place changed that. Which is a bit confusing really, because I enjoyed The Secret Place largely because it seemed that the characters had matured since The Trespasser, which actually came out later. So I’m a little confused, but at least I enjoyed this one so whatever.
At a girls’ boarding school in Dublin, tragedy has struck: a boy from the school across the road has been found dead in the grounds. But who killed him, and why did they do it? Suspicion falls initially onto his friends, and then to girls at the school, and then to peripheral people: the groundskeeper, various teachers… will the police ever be able to solve the crime?
Four girls are at the centre of the investigation: Holly, who first brings it to the attention of the police, and her three friends. In some ways they’re normal teenage girls, but they share a bond that’s so strong it seems otherworldly.
The crime itself follows a fairly run of the mill story, and I wasn’t hugely surprised by the final twist. But the book is written in that way that’s so perfectly Tana French, which I felt was missing from The Trespasser. As I read, characters from my own life echoed around in my head: shadows of relationships long fallen by the wayside, wisps of past lives wafting bittersweetly through my brain.
At certain points The Secret Place reads like a fantasy novel, but although it flirts with the line of ridiculousness it comes just shy of crossing it. What it does well, however, is demonstrate what it’s like to be a teenage girl in a four-way best-friendship that borders on the obsessive.
If you’ve ever been a teenage girl with friends, you’ll find this relatable. If you haven’t you’ll probably enjoy it anyway, because it’s quite prettily written and the storyline is intriguing enough to keep you guessing most of the way through. I hope The Trespasser is just a bump in the path and that French returns with more like this in the future.