After a slightly off-putting couple of pages of introduction, we read the transcript of a court case. It becomes clear that a man is on trial for his behaviour towards a woman. We read snippets of the transcript from the prosecution side and from the accused man. It’s impossible to form a judgement as to who is telling the truth.
The novel proper starts when we meet Catherine, an initially (to me) unsympathetic character: she works in an HR department and spends lots of time going to nightclubs or pubs, getting totally drunk and having brief flings with men. Not that I am judging any of these activities, but they aren’t ones with which I readily identify. Soon enough, though, her life changes as she meets a gorgeous man, Lee, a doorman at one of the clubs she frequents. Lee is a mysterious character with a real job he can’t tell Catherine about, and who does not seem to live anywhere. She does not mind, though, as she’s not into commitment – she slots-in her time with Lee in the gaps between seeing all her many friends in her active social life.
Things gradually change, though. We meet Catherine again, four years later, as a changed woman. She’s moved south to London, got a new job (still in HR!) and is a nervous, solitary person. She constantly checks and rechecks the locks on her flat’s door and windows, approaches her home by circuitous routes, and exists in terror. The novel switches between past and present, showing us how Catherine came to be in this situation, and what happens to her in her attempts to live a “normal” life. In the present-day sections, Catherine is befriended by a man who moves into the top-floor flat. He turns out to be a psychologist and tells Catherine that she probably has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. He recommends that she gets some treatment for the condition – but will she be able to manage this? In the sections set in the past, we follow the arc of Catherine’s relationship with Lee as it becomes darker and darker, in a fascinating yet horrific account of his increasing grip on both Catherine and her circle of friends.
Eventually, matters come to a climax and Catherine has to make a few decisions as to whether she is going to try to gain the confidence and empowerment to return to normality, or stay in the world she’s created for herself in order to feel safe. Towards the end of the book, one of her closest friends from her past reappears in a clever subplot.
This book really grips the reader all the way through. Although sometimes one is a bit irritated with Catherine, and there are a couple of minor plot holes, the author provides a superb portrait of a young woman whose personality has been completely changed – interestingly not even directly by a dreadful physical ordeal, but by the mental war to which she was subjected. All the way through the novel, one is not quite sure whether to believe everything that Catherine remembers, experiences or reveals. It is not until a (slightly pat) ending that all becomes clear.
I very much recommend this book to anyone who likes psychological suspense novels (there is very little explicit violence in it apart from the first couple of pages). It is a very assured debut novel, both in its treatment of the main characters (particularly Catherine and her journalist friend) and in its ratcheting up of the tension to screaming point. This really is a book that is hard to put down once started!
I purchased the Kindle edition of this novel for 99 p.
Read other reviews of Into the Darkest Corner at: Euro Crime (Amanda Gillies), the Bookbag, Shotsmag (Ayo Onatade), and It’s a Crime.
At time of writing, there are 266 customer reviews of this novel at Amazon UK, 236 of which award it the maximum of 5 stars, and 19 give it 4 stars. This must be quite unusual for a debut novel.
About the book and the author at the publisher’s website.