February & March Reads

After a January full of romance, I turned to thrillers and mysteries for February and March.

It’s been a strange and scary couple of months, with all of us having to make changes to our daily lives. Reading is a great way to escape reality, and I think we all need that more than ever at the moment.

That said, these are all thrillers/mysteries/suspense and therefore may contain upsetting themes for some readers. I’d encourage anyone who feels like they could be triggered to proceed with caution.

WHAT YOU DID

By Claire McGowan

Brief synopsis: Six friends, who’ve known each other since their university days, reunite for a dinner at host Ali’s house. However, the night takes a dark turn when Ali’s husband is accused of assaulting her best friend. Ali must decide whether she believes her husband or her closest friend, but as more details of the night surface, more secrets do as well.

I was in two minds about whether to include this story here, as I prefer to keep any reviews positive rather than negative. That said, with a couple of weeks passing since I finished WHAT YOU DID, my criticism is probably more with the protagonist than the plot itself.

No doubt we’ve all stood back and judged someone before, without thinking what we’d have done if we were in their shoes, but I did struggle at times with some of Ali’s thought processes, particularly around whether her best friend, Karen, should hold some of the responsibility for being assaulted.

Despite that, I liked that the book kept you guessing all the way through. There are seeds planted which make you question whether Ali’s friend remembered the ordeal correctly, but equally her account of events leaves you wondering how she could possibly be wrong. These two conflicting points kept me gripped to the plot, eager to find out “the truth”, especially when secrets are revealed which makes the friendship dynamic more complex than initially thought.

There are also references throughout to something that happened during their university days, and as the story progresses, you realise that this is significant to the present-day events, too. I liked that this parallel gave extra motivation to the characters, as well as providing a backstory which explains some of the current relationships between each of the friends.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the ending, but I can’t give anything more away without spoiling it. Perhaps other readers would understand it better than I did! It’s an entertaining read, though, if you can get past some of the problematic thought processes of the main character. Although I have no doubt that these are realistic opinions that some people would have when in the same situation, it does make for uncomfortable reading at times.  

*

THE MAN WHO DIDN’T CALL

By Rosie Walsh

Brief synopsis: Sarah and Eddie spent seven amazing days together, but shortly after Eddie leaves to go on holiday, he stops returning her messages. Convinced that their time together was real, Sarah refuses to accept that Eddie has dropped her and is instead determined to get to the bottom of why their contact has stopped. But the reason is far more shocking than she could have imagined.   

Most of the books I read are downloaded to my Kindle, but this was a present in paperback-form, which made for a nostalgic change!

Although the story starts off slowly, I believe this is an intentional device to introduce the reader to Sarah and Eddie, so that we care about their relationship and believe, like Sarah, that it was real.

There are lots of little scenarios in here that readers will be able to relate to, whether it’s stalking someone’s social media, or sending a message and hoping the three dots will pop up to show the other person writing back.

The story may focus on Sarah and Eddie, but the supporting characters certainly hold their own, from Eddie’s very troubled mother to the seven-year-old son of Sarah’s best friend. The fleshing out of these characters means that each chapter and subplot holds your attention and draws you in.

I’ll admit that I’m not the best at predicting twists, but there were two or three “reveals” in here that I didn’t see coming at all. In fact, I actually went back and re-read certain chapters to look for clues. Like every good mystery, the clues were there but I either hadn’t picked up on them because they were woven so cleverly into the story, or I had picked up on them and made incorrect assumptions on what they related to.

A very enjoyable read and a book that I have since lent to family and friends!

*

I AM WATCHING YOU

By Teresa Driscoll

Brief synopsis: During a train journey, Ella watches as two young men—just released from prison—strike up conversation with two teenage girls. A mother herself, Ella is uncomfortable at the thought of the girls getting involved with criminals, but she decides not to interfere. Then, the next day, the news breaks that one of the girls, Anna, has gone missing and Ella finds herself wrapped up in the ordeal when she starts receiving threatening letters.

There are a couple of mysteries at play here, though both intertwined: what happened to Anna and who is sending Ella threatening letters?

Flitting between different perspectives—sometimes told in first person through Ella’s point of view and other times in third person following the supporting characters—the story keeps you on your toes throughout by allowing the reader to get to know all potential suspects with their backgrounds, emotional state of mind and motivations. Just as you think you’re putting the pieces together, a new chapter will reveal a new secret or a new lie, and you’ll second-guess your previous assumptions.

I think the ending might divide readers. I didn’t see it coming, and although it was explained, I would have preferred for more hints to be woven in throughout the story. Red herrings were aplenty, partially because every character had a genuine reason for believing their actions might have led to Anna’s disappearance, and it would have been nice to extend this further so that readers had more theories to play with. Then again, I have already admitted that I’m not great at guessing twists, so maybe this is just an example of that!

Nevertheless, I did enjoy the book. Whilst I don’t usually like too many points of view, it worked well in this instance and added to the suspenseful nature of the plot.

*

WHEN I WAS YOU

By Minka Kent

Brief synopsis: After being brutally attacked, Brienne is suffering from memory loss and anxiety. She rarely leaves her house and forms a close—but platonic—friendship with her tenant, Dr. Niall Emberlin. When she encounters a woman who looks just like her, Brienne becomes convinced that someone has stolen her identity. This woman has the same name as her, wears the same clothes, drives the same car and is friends with her family on social media. It pushes Brienne to leave her house in order to find out who this woman is and why she’s pretending to be her.

This book really does put the psychological in psychological thriller. Memory loss isn’t a new concept in fiction, but Kent put a fresh spin on it here. I found myself wanting to talk to people about the events unfolding throughout the story, if only to try to wrap my head around them. But you can’t really talk about this book without giving away huge spoilers, so instead I’ll have to keep my review vague.

As has become quite common in the books I’ve read recently, the narrative switches points of view. This is particularly effective in WHEN I WAS YOU and takes the reader on a thrilling ride. Some of the characters aren’t likeable, but they aren’t intended to be, either. I think it’s a sign of a great writer when you can create an undeniably unlikeable character whose narrative is still entertaining to read.

Although I have to admit there were a few points during the book when I couldn’t help but question how realistic it would be, if you can get over those instances then the story is fast-paced, suspenseful and, by its very definition, a psychological thriller.

Are you finding that you’re reading more with lockdown measures in place?

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Tessa Lovatt is a British author with over 20 million reads online. Although a country girl at heart, she loves exploring new cities and drawing inspiration from the people and places encountered on her travels. She’s happiest when surrounded by friends and family—but, failing that, wine and chocolate will do. Her debut novel, Office Affairs, was published as an audiobook by Hachette on November 21st 2017.

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