5   +   8   =  

dont-stand-so-closeReleased: 2014

A problem with reviewing novels is always how to explain the plot without giving too much away. This is even more problematic in murder mysteries and thrillers. The blurb for the book says that, after working on her final traumatic case, Stella, a clinical psychologist has been cocooned in the home she shares with her husband Max for the last three years. She is severely agoraphobic but feels she is safe here, away from the city until one night a young girl who claims to be Max’s daughter arrives on Stella’s doorstep and demands to be let in.

The setting for the novel is a bleak, detached house in large grounds on the top of a hill. The narrative switches between a first person account from Stella and an omnipresent account from an unknown source recounting case studies of anonymous people. By structuring the story in this way the book allows the reader to make certain assumptions and be more aware of the events unfolding than the protagonist Stella. This cleverly adds to the building suspense as the drama unfolds.

The story starts in the present day when Stella opens the door to Blue. Blue looks young and harmless but she is also freezing cold and troubled and Stella’s training kicks in. She is intrigued by the child and wants to know more about her but the more she finds out the more worrying her situation becomes as historic case notes offer hints about the events that have lead Stella, who was once a successful psychologist, to be living away from all her old friends and afraid to go out.

As Stella gives her backstory, clues are offered about other troubling aspects of Blue’s life and a suspicion begins to grow that the girl is linked to Max in other ways. A strong suspense is built up and the reader becomes more and more concerned for Stella’s welfare. Eventually the past Stella has been trying to hide from for so long seems to be catching up with her and she has to finally face reality.

As the book’s author is a clinical psychologist she has been able to draw believable characters and the plot is gripping. Stella, with all her neurosis and drug taking, is almost as unreliable as Blue who appears to be a compulsive liar. Overall I felt that most of my sympathy should lie with Stella, as she seemed to have found herself in a bad place without really deserving it, but at times she was so full of self doubt, insecurity and internal contradictions that I found myself wishing she would grow up and get some back bone. Nevertheless this was a compelling read, in the same vein as Gone Girl but not quite so complex and with characters who were not so well rounded. It was a good plot and a very competent first novel and I’m looking forward to reading more from Luana Lewis.

★★★★

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