I feel slightly sucker punched only seconds after finishing this fantastic new thriller from Louise Candlish – a name I only came across when it appeared as a ‘you might also like’ recommendation on Amazon, but is now top of my list when it comes to twisty, delicious and impossible to put down thrillers. After the final twists in The Heights I think this might be her best yet. She has an incredibly incisive way of portraying middle class southern morés and the way they change and mutate under immense pressure. It’s like reading a weaponised Jane Austen for the 21st Century; what if Willoughby had been a killer or Wickham had kidnapped then killed Lydia? These are the same type of people, centuries apart, but still playing out gender and class politics. Except now it’s from a beautiful Victorian semi (with a large family room leading to bifold doors into the garden with pizza oven).
Kieran Watts has been dead for over two years. Yet, there he is, on the roof terrace of an exclusive building in Shad Thames. Called the heights – all lower case – this is a tall, thin building that you might not notice at all, had you not been standing in the window of the flat opposite. There are subtle changes. The physique for a start has had some work. There may even be a touch of plastic surgery here and there, but you know it’s him. Even though he’s meant to be dead. You were sure he was dead, because you were the one who had him killed.
Ellen Saint lives with husband Justin, their daughter Freya and Ellen’s son Lucas from her previous marriage to Vic. They really are the perfect family unit, with a shared parenting ethos for Lucas and everyone getting along well. Lucas is a bright teenager, possibly on course to apply to Oxbridge, who loves gaming and spending time with friends and girlfriend Jade. Then along comes Kieran Watts. Kieran moves nearby after being taking into care and placed into a foster home with Prisca. This puts him into the catchment area for Lucas’s school and on Kieran’s first day, Lucas is asked to ‘buddy’ Kieran and help him settle in. The two boys really hit it off and from here starts a spiral that’s only travelling one way, towards tragedy. Firstly, Lucas goes out a lot with Kieran and some older kids, who have cars. Then his grades start to slip and he uses bad language at home. Ellen fears his late nights, mornings in bed and red- rimmed eyes are down to drugs. She tries to reduce his time with Kieran, but only succeeds in pushing them together. Lucas and his girlfriend Jade, find Kieran funny. Ellen doesn’t. She sees the way Kieran looks at her. It’s bad enough when he’s dead behind the eyes, but when focused on her, Ellen sees defiance, challenge and threat. Tragedy strikes one evening, as the boys are out in Kieran’s car and veer off road into a lake. Kieran escapes, but Lucas’s seatbelt is jammed. Ellen can stop imagining her son in his final moments of realisation, panic and terrible fear. Kieran will be made to pay for this.
Ellen is a very single-minded character and I was never sure whether I liked her or not. There are times I think she was a snob, only wanting her son to be with other middle class kids. She also seems to be obsessed with Lucas at the expense of her daughter. Obviously she loves her children, but how much of her interest in Lucas is fuelled by his good looks, his academic prowess and future promise as a potential Oxbridge student. There is an element of Ellen’s concern which is caught up in what others think. She’s still very close with Vic, Lucas’s father, but he has a very different way of parenting. He has no qualms about Kieran, and let’s them hang out at his place. Ellen likes to think that she and Vic are on the same page and is proud of their ability to co-parent alongside her new husband Justin, but is Vic really in tune with Ellen’s values? I kept wondering if this small act of undermining Ellen, was a sign of greater betrayals to come. Similarly, Ellen acts unilaterally as soon as she sees Kieran at the heights. I was surprised that she never once talked with Justin, so they don’t work together on this discovery. After Kieran was sentenced for his part in Lucas’s accident, Ellen starts a media campaign about stronger sentencing for deaths caused by dangerous driving. However, Vic is her partner in this with Justin holding the fort at home. Don’t they agree? Or does Ellen simply disregard his feelings? Her love for her son and her deep sense of grief are driving her forwards and are stronger than her feelings for either husband or her daughter.
As usual Louise Candlish has written a fantastic thriller here. It has all the ingredients that keep you reading till the early hours. Short, snappy chapters keep the pace and tension throughout. There are twists and turns galore! Her incredible ability to analyse and dissect human nature is forensic in its detail. She lampoons middle class concerns here perfectly, from Ellen’s home that Vic remarks is just the right location and style for his ex-wife, to her determination that Lucas is Oxbridge material and shouldn’t be dragged backwards by someone like Kieran. Her children, on the other hand, are more than happy to mix with friends from different backgrounds. Ellen would probably consider herself liberal, but her actions and attitude betray other, perhaps more conservative values. Her very public campaign for longer sentencing seemed to be a distraction, something to throw herself into that potentially delays her grief. It was fascinating to see how such a seismic loss, affects each family member differently. This combination of raw family emotion and tense, thrilling, revelations makes for an incredibly intelligent and enjoyable read that’s impossible to put down until you read the final page.
Meet The Author
Louise Candlish is the author of 15 novels, a fact she can’t quite believe herself. THE HEIGHTS is her newest – Louise Candlish describes it as a ‘twisty revenge thriller whose narrator, Ellen, has a strange fear of heights known as ‘high place phenomenon’. You could say she’s my most Hitchcock-inspired character yet! I can’t wait for you to read it and share your thoughts.’
‘A bit about me: I live in a South London neighbourhood not unlike the one in my books, with my husband, teenage daughter, and a fox-red Labrador called Bertie who is the apple of my eye. Books, TV and long walks have been my top sanity savers during recent times. Oh, and wine’. From her Amazon Author page.