I wasn’t sure about this book at first, mainly because of the unusual cover. I’m not sure it sells the novel to potential readers, because inside is an engaging and psychologically complex story. Lizzie, a music teacher and pianist, meets the charming and gregarious businessman Markus when he’s in the hotel bar where she plays piano in the evenings. Lizzie is not a natural performer and enjoys being tucked away in the background in this way, as opposed to being a concert pianist. Yet, Markus notices her and soon sweeps her off her feet. She is attracted to him for all those qualities she doesn’t have. However, soon after their whirlwind wedding, Lizzie is pregnant. They move out to a new home in the suburbs and the life they expected to have is gone. Lizzie feels isolated, Markus has changed towards her and her friends are far away. So, when older neighbour Morag attempts to make friends with her, Lizzie reciprocates and soon they are becoming close friends.
I loved the way the author leaves the story open for a little while; as things begin to change between the couple I thought Markus might become psychologically abusive. He seems to want the life of a single man, still visiting bars and restaurants, schmoozing clients. I found myself furious when he missed the birth of his son, then was so nonchalant about it. Luckily, Morag was available, driving to the hospital then holding Lizzie’s hand through the birth. This is the culmination of weeks of planning on Morag’s part. She has wanted to be there for Lizzie and the new baby, laying the groundwork by suggesting shopping trips for baby clothes and checking in on her while Markus is working away. She seems like the ideal surrogate grandparent and that’s definitely what she wants. But why does she want it so bad? We get small hints from Morag’s friend who brings us little warnings about Morag getting too close and hints of trouble within her family.
The author is very adept at creating tension and from this point on I couldn’t put the book down. I started to really dislike Morag. When she goes to Dobbie’s Garden Centre for a meal with her friend, it is after Jamie’s birth and Morag is relating the role she has played. She plays the martyr, claiming that she had to help Lizzie and making out that Markus is totally useless. She represents the situation as if Lizzie has asked for help, rather than the truth which is that Morag has been manipulative and overbearing. She seems to think she can simply decide she will be mother and grandmother to Lizzie and Jamie, and the people concerned will just fall into place. She achieves this through clever manipulation and deception.
The only real thing we can be sure of when it comes to Morag’s previous home life is that it’s shrouded in mystery. We know that she lost Peter, her husband, but their children seem to be spread far and wide. Their son is in Australia, and her daughter Aileen seems to be close by, but estranged from Morag. All of these things arouse suspicion in the reader. However, the skill of the author means the reader has several possibilities to explore. Markus has changed so completely its hard to believe he pursued Lizzie and wanted a married life with her. It’s almost as if he was in pursuit of a prize, and once it’s been attained he becomes bored and moves on to the next challenge. Lizzie begins to wonder what she saw in this man and whether his absences really are due to work. I started to build up a picture of a conman for whom appearances are everything. At the very least he is immature and not ready to be a husband and father.
Morag seems likeable, but when that mask slips there is someone with a serious psychological problem; she is unable to relate to others normally, has no boundaries and seems to be paranoid about someone being in her house. Then there is Lizzie. It is hard to get a real sense of Lizzie because she is constantly silenced. Markus talks over her and makes choices for her. Morag does the same and plants worries and anxieties onto her when she’s at her most vulnerable. There are times when I wonder if she is suffering post-natal depression because she seems to be in a daze, paralysed and unable to take any action for herself. Is there a villain here or is it just an unfortunate set of circumstances? The tension is kept right up to the end and I did find it hard to put the book down at times. This was a pleasant surprise, because the author is totally new to me and I didn’t expect to be so gripped by it. If you enjoy twisty thrillers that really delve into the psychology of relationships then this is the book for you.