Alex lives in one of a row of cottages, once intended for workmen, now homes for middle class Londoners looking for more space in the suburbs. He lives with wife Beth and their dog Olive, enjoying quite a settled and peaceful existence. Even Alex’s job as an auditor has a certain amount of quiet respectability about it – some might even say boring respectability. However, when Beth’s pregnant friend Zara ends up without a roof over her head, she becomes a catalyst for change in the house and in Alex and Beth’s marriage. She becomes a third party in the relationship, staying much longer than expected and even worse, she and Alex don’t get on. They start to butt heads over his indifference to Beth’s interests, such as trying to get the pathway opposite them opened up and turned into a community nature trail. As Zara and Alex continue to clash, Beth notices things – for example his indifference to Zara’s pregnancy, especially considering they’ve been told they can’t have children – and this starts to bother her. He has no social media presence, won’t have his photo taken and is very threatened by Zara’s questions about his past. When he explodes, after Beth buys him an Ancestry DNA kit for his birthday she seriously starts to wonder. What is her husband so scared about?
The author sets this uneasy dynamic in the present day, but interweaves it with another timeline, around twenty years in the past. A young man called Richard narrates his own love story with a temp girl he meets in the foyer of their offices. She has just started to eat lunch in the foyer because there’s a new frozen yoghurt machine. After a few lunchtimes chatting in the building, they start meeting for lunch, either sitting outside or taking strolls into St. James’s Park. As they get to know each other, Richard is starting to fall for Marina, but their time together is so rationed. He can never take her out after work, she goes straight home. She can never stay the night, except for Thursdays, but even then she arrives later in the evening and disappears early next morning. They never go to Marina’s flat. In fact he’s surprised when she agrees to come to his birthday party, organised by new flatmate Rollo. Rollo is sure he knows what’s going on and can’t believe Richard is so naïve- Marina is hiding something, or perhaps someone.
Louise Candlish really is clever when it comes to twists and turns and this novel has a couple of whoppers. Some I didn’t see coming at all, both in the past and the present. There are a couple of red herrings too, just to make the story more interesting and send the reader down a few blind alleys. The characters are nuanced and full of faults, making it harder to work out which ones have the normal human flaws and which are just downright evil. I found Beth’s friend Zara so annoying, she’s inquisitive and inserts herself into private conversations and really does seem to have a bee in her bonnet about Alex. She’s manipulative too, using Beth’s grief at being unable to have a child to get comfortable in their home. It felt like she had no intention of leaving, involving Beth more and more in the pregnancy and actively baiting Alex in front of his wife. It could be that she just thinks Alex treats her friend badly, but it could be that she wants Beth and the house to herself. In our past section I felt some sympathy with Richard because he was just so trusting and is let down badly. As the events in the past start to escalate the book becomes so tense. I was addicted, reading the last half in one long session. Alex is as tense as we are and his desperation to stay in the background of Beth’s community venture starts to look very suspicious. Beth is angry because he’s being unsupportive, but it’s possibly much more than that. I could see that he was experiencing real fear, but what does he think will be discovered and what is the link to the nature trail? It’s a labyrinthine plot but I didn’t miss a thing, totally focused on the outcome of this mystery. Candlish has an incredible knack for creating these middle class communities that look the height of respectability from the outside and turn out to be anything but. Thankfully, I didn’t get attached to any of the characters so I could take a twisted sense of pleasure in watching this particular house of cards come tumbling down. This book is addictive, intense and as always, an absolute treat.
Published 2nd February 2023 by Simon and Schuster UK
Meet The Author
Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of fourteen novels. Our House, a #1 bestseller, won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards, was longlisted for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award. It is soon to be a major ITV drama made by Death in Paradise producers Red Planet Pictures. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter. Visit her at LouiseCandlish.com or connect with her on Twitter @Louise_Candlish.