Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
I have read and reviewed the two previous novels published by this author (The Chalk Man and The Taking of Annie Thorne) and enjoyed them both, although, personally, I was bowled over by the first, and slightly less so by the second. This one, for me, falls somewhere in between. The premise behind the book is gripping, and it’s impossible not to put yourself in the shoes of the main character, Gabe, and imagine what having such an experience would feel like. The premise is quite intriguing; there are many twists and turns, and although thriller lovers might guess some aspects of the plot, the story is build up in such a way that it’s difficult to get the full picture until you’re quite close to the end. On the other hand, the supernatural element and the way the story is told might not be to everybody’s taste.
I will not go into a lot of detail about the plot, because I think the description gives a good indication of what readers might find, and I want to avoid spoilers. Some aspects of the story will seem fairly familiar to followers of the genre (and to those who also watch a lot of thriller, mystery, and action movies); the book itself mentions Hitchcock’s Strangers in a Train, and readers will think about many other films (I also thought about the Lady Vanishes, although more modern versions also exist, and similar movies where somebody goes missing and nobody believes the story of the person trying to find him or her, be it a relative, or a total stranger), but Tudor is very skilled at mixing what appear to be disparate elements and creating something new and fresh. There is also a good dose of conspiracy theory behind the story (a very interesting part of it, dark web and all, although perhaps one that is not explained in as much detail as some readers would like), and, as I have mentioned, a supernatural element as well. I enjoyed the overall story and how it was developed, although I got the sense that this is a novel best read quickly and taken at face value, as it does require a fairly large dose of suspension of disbelief, and if readers stop to analyse every little detail, they’re likely to find fault with it. The supernatural element means that people looking for a totally plausible and convincing thriller will be disappointed, but because that part of the story is not fully explained either, fans of the supernatural might feel cheated as well, although those who prefer the magical/unexplained elements of a story to remain open to interpretation, will be happy.
The story deals in a variety of subjects like grief, loss, revenge, regret, remorse, punishment, family relationships, truth and lies, love, making amends, and it questions our sense of justice. How far would we go to get justice if we lost a loved one due to somebody else’s actions? What would be the right price to pay? Can we truly forgive and forget? What about extenuating circumstances? Is an eye for an eye the only kind of justice we understand? And where does it stop? The three main characters (Gabe, Fran, and Katie) reflect upon very similar topics throughout the book, and there are many quotable and memorable fragments, although some reviewers were not too enamoured with this aspect of the novel, as they felt it detracted from the flow of the book (I enjoyed them, but sometimes the “kill your darlings” advice came to mind, and the reflections by the different characters were not always distinct enough to differentiate between them or help create an image of the characters’ personalities in the mind of the reader).
I’ve mentioned the three characters already, and they are introduced to us through their actions and the story —as we meet them in the thick of things— rather than as individuals with their distinct personalities and belief systems. We slowly learn more about them as the novel progresses, and we discover that although the story is told in the third person, mostly from the points of view of the three protagonists (but not exclusively), that does not mean we get an accurate depiction of their lives and past. While Tudor’s two previous novels where written in the first person, and both narrators were notably unreliable, I wouldn’t say the change in the point of view results in an objective account. In fact, by following the three characters —that we might suspect are linked although we don’t know how at first— we get different aspects and alternating versions of events that eventually fit together (and we also see each character through the eyes and perspective of the others). I am not sure how convincing I found any of the characters. I quite liked Katie, perhaps because I feel she’s the more consistent and well described of the three, and she tries hard to do the right thing. While I empathised with Gabe due to his situation (as most readers are likely to do), this was more at an intellectual level, rather than because of personal affinity, and for me, my sympathy decreased the more I learned about him, although I admit he is an interesting character. Fran… well, we don’t learn as much about her as about the others, and like Gabe, we discover things about her that make us question what we thought we knew (although less so than with Gabe). I did like the girl, but we only briefly get to see things from her point of view, and her reflections seem very grown up for her age, although it’s true that her circumstances are pretty unique. There is also a baddy, although we don’t learn who that is until the end (but I think a lot of readers will have their suspicions before they reach that point), a character that weighs heavily on the story despite not playing too active a role, and some pretty mysterious characters, that are not fully explained, especially one. Yes, I know I sound mysterious, but it’s truly intentional.
I’ve read some reviews complaining of the changes in point of view, saying that it’s confusing. I didn’t find it so, and as I said, I also enjoyed the character’s pseudo-philosophical reflections, although they did not always help advance the plot, but this book combines a variety of genres, and I felt the writing style suited the combination well. It is not purely action driven, and the narration is not just scene after scene pushing the plot forward, but that also helps give readers time to digest the story and to keep trying to work out how all the parts fit in. In my opinion, Tudor writes very well, and I wonder in which direction her writing will go in the future.
Just a couple of quotes from the book:
People say hate and bitterness will destroy you. They’re wrong. It’s hope. Hope will devour you from the inside like a parasite. It will leave you hanging like bait above a shark. But hope won’t kill you. It’s not that kind.
‘A fresh start.’ Fresh start. Like life was a carton of milk. When one went sour you threw it out and opened another.
Regarding the ending… Well, I’ve already mentioned that the supernatural element is not fully explained, and some readers were very annoyed by that, either because they felt it was unnecessary to the story and it detracted from the overall credibility of the plot, or because they thought that the supernatural aspect of the story should have been developed further rather than just introduced and left to readers’ imagination. There is a fair amount of telling at the end, and it did remind me of classical mysteries, where one of the characters would piece together the explanation after talking to everybody and getting all the facts, summarising the story to make sure everything was clear. The many twists mean that we get some false endings as well and there is an epilogue that finalises everything, introducing a hopeful note as well and one not as hopeful. As I have mentioned before, the ending makes sense in the context of the story, but this is not a police procedural, and I’m sure sticklers for details and those who are looking for something totally realistic might question it. Considering the many different threads weaved by the novel, I thought the ending was quite successful in bringing it all together, with the caveats mentioned.
In sum, this is a book I’d recommend to those who enjoy thrillers that combine a number of different elements, very twisty, not too focused on strict realism and consistent characters, and who don’t mind a touch of the supernatural. It is not a fast and quick thriller, but rather one that builds up at a slower pace, with detours that allow the reader to reflect upon subjects pertinent to the genre. Many interesting elements, intriguing characters, and good writing. I wonder where the writer will go next, and I wouldn’t mind following her into other genres.