When Alex wakes up in hospital, he finds himself locked-in in his body. His mind is absolutely clear, but he cannot communicate with his surroundings; neither can he move his body the least bit, nor can he show the doctors or his family that he is not in a coma. It takes some time for him to figure out what actually happened. Since he cannot ask, he has to rely on what his visitors share with him. First of all, his girlfriend Bea, but also his father and his sister. He obviously was climbing when he fell from the rock. Since is never wore a helmet, the impact left a serious damage to his brain. But slowly he comes to the conclusion that the different pieces of information he gathers while listening do not really fit together. There must be more about it.
Emily Koch surely has chosen a very special point of view for her novel. Giving a voice to a locked-in character is something you do not read that often. Yet, it made the story especially appealing since you as the reader were completely with Alex and had no chance of getting more information than the protagonist. Not all you learnt made sense, at times, you even suspected the girlfriend of having tried to murder him – just like Alex did. Thus, the choice the author has made is simply great and adds a special bit to the story.
It was an attempted murder, this becomes clear quite early in the novel, yet, it takes some time to really understand what was behind it all. The limited access to information really supports the suspense here. At some points I got a bit annoyed, wishing it all to advance a bit more quickly. However, imagining this as a real life event, there is nothing one could do to accelerate it, so even though I was curious to get to the solution, it was a good decision to delay it.
A risky point of view which I find quite innovative. The plot was solved convincingly and the author found a way out of the story that I absolutely liked.
Summertime, best to spend on the Greek island of Hydra where the Codringtons possess a villa up on the hill. Yet, while the art collector Jimmy and his second wife Phaine are relaxed, Jimmy’s daughter Naomi seems to have fled London where she just lost her job under mysterious circumstances. First timers on the island are the American family Haldane who enjoy themselves among other compatriots. Their daughter Samantha, slightly younger than Naomi, is soon impressed by the English young woman who not only knows every corner of the island, but who is also self-confident and slightly intimidating. One day, they meet a young man, obviously one of the refugees from the Middle East. Sam would prefer to retreat and not to make contact whereas Naomi’s interest is aroused. For days, they meet him repeatedly until Naomi, out of ennui, draws up a plan of how to support the poor refugee: her family is super-rich, so getting rid of a couple of things in their house does not harm anybody. With the help of the housekeeper, the Arab is to break in and rob the Codringtons. Yet, the scheme does not work out as planned and the girls suddenly have to think of what to do with two bodies.
Lawrence Osborne’s novel starts like the perfect summer read. He depicts the atmosphere of the island in a colourful and authentic way. How the people move around, how relaxed everybody seems to be, but also the way in which the local people slightly stay away from the holidaymakers. The girls spend their days in the water, enjoying the sun – it’s almost too perfect. With the appearance of the refugee, the tone changes and we get to see another side of Naomi. This is where the novel starts to become really interesting.
It is especially this character that is fascinating to observe. She can be the loving daughter – she plays this role perfectly for her father who is aware of it, but on vacation he can ignore negative thoughts and he can still see his wife in the girl. Her stepmother Phaine is less easy to impress, but here, Naomi chooses the open confrontation. Towards the islanders, she is rather cold-shouldered and arrogant. She makes use of the people just as her needs demand it, she openly exploits the housekeeper and forces her to become an accomplice. In contrast, Sam has an innocent air, she is a bit naive and quickly impressed. Thus, she easily becomes Naomi’s victim and is blackmailed by her. Only when it is too late, Sam learns that people on the island consider Naomi possessed, even demonized. Naomi herself knows exactly what she is doing and why she treats people in the way she does:
“It was just an attraction. It was a matter of gravity. It was her influence over them that was attractive too, their reluctant malleability. She couldn’t understand why people were like that.“
She makes use of them simply because she can. When the situation gets out of hand, she keeps calm and manages everything. There is no regret, not even a tear – considering the fact that she has lost her father, she seems to be really cold-blooded here. As a gifted liar, she does not mean to much effort for her to set up a story. Just like the mythological Hydra, Naomi is some kind of poisonous serpent and no loss is a real defeat. Sam, on the contrary, will be haunted her whole life.
The story around Naomi is really enthralling and her behaviour and manipulation repellent at the same time. When the focus shifted away from her to the refugee fleeing from Hydra, it therefore became a bit uninteresting for me. Even though this part is important and definitely full of suspense, it was more centred around the action and less around the character.
It is often said that the initial sentence of a novel is most decisive. Here, however, in my opinion, it’s the opposite. Lawrence Osborne find a remarkable closing of the novel which concentrates much of the story in just three sentences:
“Life was full of such people. One didn’t know anything about them, even though they occupied a position of utmost importance in one’s life for a time. They were like shooting starts, flaring up for a brilliant moment, lighting up the sky even for a few lingering seconds, then disappearing forever.“
No morning routine for janitor Ivan: on his tour around the high school premises he finds the body of Lucinda Hayes, golden girl and now dead. It does not take long to identify possible murders: Ivan first of all, it hasn’t been long since he’s out of prison. Cameron Whitley, the boy from next door who has been stalking Lucinda for quite some time. Jade Dixon-Burns, a slightly overweight outsider who openly hated Lucinda. Mr O. the art teacher who was seen with Lucinda’s diary. Officer Russ Fletcher’s first murder case comes to a very bad moment, his wedding is all but ok and additionally, Ivan is his wife’s brother and Cameron his former partner’s son. How can he objectively investigate this case?
Danya Kukafka has chosen a well-known topic for her debut novel: the murder of the popular teenage girl. Even though many have written about this, she manages to create something new and singular. She provides us with the narrators who tell the story from their point of view and thus slowly unfolds the tragedy of all the three of them – it is not that much the victim herself whom we feel sorry for in the end but much more those three. The author succeeds in creating outstanding characters who really have to tell a story which I found actually from one point on much more interesting than the question who committed the deed.
Let’s start with Jade. From the outside she seems to be the hateful reclusive teenager who is difficult to love due to her negative attitude. Yet, behind this surface, we find a thoughtful girl who has experienced domestic violence, who has to work several jobs in her free time and who lost her best friend Zap to Lucinda. They were really really close, almost could read each other’s thoughts but when they get older and the interest in the opposite sex arises, Zap rejects her mercilessly and in a most offending way which leaves scars forever. Jade has never been popular, often was the victim of bullying, but this rejection breaks something in her. And makes her especially sensitive for other people’s emotions.
Russ, on the other hand, is caught in a conflict. He has a bad conscience for what he has done years before – he always backed his partner, even when he knew that this was not right and when in doing so he was hurting others, especially Cameron and his mother. Is this the point to correct a mistake? However, his mind is also dancing around his wife Inés and how he never really understood her. Do they actually know each other? He doesn’t have a clue about her past in Mexico and doesn’t know how she spends her days. He wanted to make her happy and give her the chance to stay in the USA, but can this, what they have, still be called love? Was it ever love?
Last comes Cameron. He is strange and odd. He is talented in drawing but his obsession with Lucinda is not only weird but morbid. He observes her, spends hours in the evening and night outside her house looking into her window. He even breaks into the Hayes’ house one night and watches her sleeping. He is a bit creepy, but he is also the boy whose police officer father was accused of murder a couple of years back and who has been living only with his mother. As soon as the suspicion falls on him, everybody remembers what his father was suspected of. Cameron does not know what his father has done or hasn’t, but he strongly fears that there is something bad running in his veins. This keeps him from thinking clearly in this situation. And the fact that he has seen the body, doesn’t help to rescue him from being the prime suspect for the reader, too.
The development of those three narrators who tell the story alternatingly gives the novel much more depth than I had expected. Apart from the big question of who is the murder, there are many smaller questions circling around the characters which keep the suspense constantly high. It is not a typical murder novel you cannot put aside due to the high pace and high suspense, no, it rather slowly unfolds and provides you with a complex psychological network of emotions and memories.
When Tom Krupp comes home late that evening, he is astonished: the door is not locked. And his wife apparently is in the middle of cooking. Her cell phone and her handbag are there, but where is Karen? When none of their friends have heard anything of her either, he calls the police who seem to be at his house immediately: there was an awful accident and the victim could be his wife. Tom is preoccupied and relaxed at the same time. But just as the police he wonders what his wife was doing in that part of town. When a couple of days later a dead body is discovered, Karen’s accident and the murder are quickly linked. Yet, the woman cannot remember anything from that day, she’s suffering from amnesia since the accident. More and more evidence hints at her and Tom has to find out that his wife is everything but not the woman he thought she was. However, he does not know yet that the real danger might come from somewhere completely different.
I already liked Shari Lapena’s first novel “The couple next door”, but “A stranger in the House” is much more thrilling and elaborate than her first book. First of all, there is so much the characters hide and only reveal when they are forced to. All of them have their secrets, some minor, some major, and this keeps you alert all the time. Especially since you never know whom you can actually trust.
First of all Karen. It is obvious quite from the start that she has some buried secrets from her past and that she deliberately lied to her husband. Nevertheless, she is good at playing roles – also with the reader so until the very last pages. You cannot be sure of who she is and what she is capable of. Second comes Tom. He seems to be a nice and trustful guy, easy to delude perhaps. I was taken by surprise that he also has something kept from his wife which will play a major role in the development of the case. Third Brigid, their neighbour and close friend of Karen. I didn’t like her from the start. She is that nosy observer across the street who is meddling all the time and sticking her nose in other people’s matters. That her role takes some interesting turn came rather as a surprise to me.
Even though the reader gets a much better picture of what happened than the police, there is still enough in the dark to keep you from knowing for sure. Since there were so many unexpected twists and turns, I wasn’t completely certain what to believe was the truth until the very end. The plot was cleverly constructed and to me absolutely convincing in all respects.
To sum up, a thriller which keeps you alert and reading on.