It was Niccolò Machiavelli who said:
“Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.”
But how do you distinguish between the two? And would you really want to keep your enemies closer? What if it happens by accident? What if it’s meticulously planned? These are the sort of questions that ran through my mind as I read this thriller that got progressively more disturbing and twisted as layer upon layer of things that might make you change your mind over who are your friends, and who are your enemies again and again.
The novel begins with a short prologue set fifteen years before in which a young lad remembers the last Christmas he spent with his family, so different to his life now with new foster parents who treat him poorly and wound him with their words.
Then into the novel proper and we first meet Luke. He has changed career path, studying and qualifying as a psychotherapist, setting up his business in his garden office. We learn in the opening pages that Luke had lost his partner Lisa to breast cancer three years ago. He is now guardian to her young son, Nathan, from a previous relationship and he’s grateful for Lisa’s mum Gemma’s help.
His first, only, customer of the day arrives. A young woman suffering from ‘crippling anxiety following a relationship break-up, and the chronic and complicated ill-health of her mother.’ Jenna isn’t sure about seeking therapy, but needs to talk, finding it easy to talk to Luke about her life and her mother until… he asks her when the anxiety began and it takes her back to another older relationship. She was just twenty-one and had just finished with the guy, who died shortly after. She abruptly leaves the session.
Luke hopes she’ll come back for more, but isn’t hopeful. Still, they had bonded, and when he passes a local bookshop one day and sees her behind the counter, he can’t resist going in to order a book. It’s obvious that they’ll not renew the doctor-patient relationship, and will fall for each other instead. However, Luke isn’t the only one looking into the shop at Jenna with Luke that day. Someone, traumatised by past events, is out for revenge. But what is the connection to Jenna and Luke?
Over the next three hundred or so pages, Malone takes us on a roller coaster ride as the revengers’ plan is put into action, step by carefully planned step. Malone mainly follows Jenna and Luke, swapping between them, but occasionally taking the PoV of the revenger. Layers of secrets are gradually exposed on all sides, as life gets more and more complicated for the would-be couple, and nasty, creepy things start to happen that could spoil any chance of a happy ending. The build-up of tension is superb, and the shocks, little and large keep piling on.
Luke is the most interesting character: a troubled younger life, then stability followed by grief, and finally rebuilding – only to have everything he’s survived for threatened. But Malone raises questions in our minds about Luke – can he be trusted? We do hope so! Meanwhile, poor Jenna has her mother, who eats carers for breakfast and is suffering from dementia, to deal with, which is putting huge pressure on her and making it impossible to lead a normal life. As for the revenger, well, I don’t want to give anything away.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Malone, but, as they say, it won’t be the last! A fixture of the Tartan Noir scene over the past few years, he has a strong back catalogue for me to explore. A trained psychotherapist, he is able to get the reader into the minds of the characters and lead us up the garden path and back again. What an ‘enjoyable’ psychothriller this book is, highly recommended.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Orenda paperback original, 324 pages.
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