This novel is a great little thriller of the domestic suspense variety. Jo is an apparently perfect wife with an apparently perfect existence. She lives in a lovely cottage in Easter Bridge, a hamlet in the Lake District, with her husband Marcus and his son Sean. Jo and Marcus own a literary tour company so one or the other of them takes groups round various regions of the country while the other stays to look after Sean.
Of course, all is not what it seems. Jo is troubled by past and present experiences. Eleven years ago she had a baby daughter, Lauren, with her then-husband Dominic. When the girl was one, she was snatched from her pushchair outside a sea-shell shop while the family were on holiday. Jo has never got over the guilt of this event, of course, and we really don’t know whether to trust her account of the abduction. We do know that the pushchair was found smashed at the bottom of a cliff, but when we learn what happened to her first marriage, and find that mysterious postcards appear every now and again over the years with the message “why don’t you come for me?”, we are really not sure what to think about Jo.
In the present day, Jo increasingly has trouble in relating to her environment. When she met Marcus, Sean lived with his ex-wife, who has now remarried and has a new baby. Sean has therefore chosen to live with his father, but however much Jo tries, Sean constantly rejects her in that typical teenager way. Their relationship becomes more strained when Jo thinks she catches him with a knife – but Marcus can’t find it and is not sure whether to believe Jo’s report. At work, Jo is increasingly unhappy as a colleague, Melissa, spends more and more time with Marcus planning tours, leaving Jo to do the “babysitting” for Sean. Jo’s relationship with her neighbours is also somewhat strained, with one very nosy woman living nearby. A couple who own a gallery also live near Jo, but she suspects that the husband Brian is abusive to the wife, Shelley, causing Jo to worry about what if anything to do when Shelley disappears one day.
The author cleverly ratchets up the tension. As the book is almost entirely told from Jo’s point of view, we cannot know what is factually true much of the time. It seems, for example, that the police have hinted to Marcus that the postcards might be posted by Jo herself, so nobody takes any notice when the message changes on the next one to appear (apart from Jo of course). Then, another strange woman moves into an empty house nearby. Jo recognises her instantly as an old schoolfriend, and comes increasingly to suspect that the woman’s daughter might be Lauren.
This really is a very suspenseful novel, despite one or two themes that did not seem to go anywhere. At the start I found Jo rather an irritating “perfect housewife” figure, but I soon realised how the author was providing a veneer of normality that is masking Jo’s gradually increasing inner torment. As the book progresses and Jo has fewer people to confide in, her actions become more extreme, causing everyone to believe her even less. There is a shocking climax to the story that has divided reviewers of the novel, some finding it a compelling ending but others thinking it disappointing. I think it works well, and admire the author for a very focused, determined novel that has echoes of one of the great modern suspense writers, Karin Alvtegen.
I reviewed the author’s previous novel, The Pull of the Moon, at Euro Crime last year.
Author website/bibliography. The US edition of this book is called Why Didn’t [not Don’t] You Come For Me? I wonder why the word was changed. I think the UK version works better with its connotation of an ongoing rather than a past mystery.