Published: 12th July 2018
Started reading: August 10
Finished reading: August 16
Trigger warnings: Sexual references, suicide, domestic violence
Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.
As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.
One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.
This is my fifth book by Lisa Jewell, and it is the first time where I have been left feeling a little disappointed. The concept looked very enticing and the opening left me thoroughly intrigued about what was to come, but ultimately there were far too many flaws relating to both the characters and the plot for it to be a great read.
The beginning was extremely promising, and it introduced the various complex strands that ran throughout the book. Immediately we learn that a murder has taken place in the affluent neighbourhood of Melville Heights, and the book then goes back and tells the story of what happened in the weeks leading up to it, in which the residents’ buried secrets slowly begin to unravel.
It is told primarily from three separate points of view, in the third person past tense. Firstly we have Joey, a newly married woman who has recently moved to Melville Heights. Then we have Jenna, a teenage girl whose mother believes she is the victim of ‘gang-stalking’, and finally Freddie, a boy who spends most of his time looking out of his bedroom window and spying on the neighbours.
However, the character right at the centre of things is the exceptionally complex Tom Fitzwilliam, a headteacher who is treated with equal amounts of awe and suspicion. He is very charming, and even irresistible to some, but he also occasionally comes across as creepy. In addition, he has a somewhat murky past despite his glowing reputation. In terms of how he is written, it is like the reader is being challenged to determine his true nature. As for me, I found him rather difficult to like.
The character I liked the most was Jenna, but almost all of the rest were not only unlikable, but frustrating in the extreme. Joey was perhaps the worst culprit; many of her actions were unbelievably foolish and difficult to comprehend. In fact I dislike how she and one or two other female characters were portrayed in the book. They just did not come across as very believable, which was surprising for this author. I also felt uncertain at how mental health was presented, too.
The more I think about it, the more flaws I identify with this book. The plot as a whole was quite far-fetched and also relied on a couple of very unlikely coincidences. For me, there was very little tension and the identity of the killer became much too obvious due to hints which lacked subtlety. The ending, however, was powerful and brilliantly written.
Melville Heights worked well as a setting, and I liked the intricate detail of each of the houses and what they brought to the story. The writing style as usual from Lisa Jewell was sharp and flowed well, making it a fast-paced read. It was just not enough to mask the issues I had with the book.
Overall, while this was a book that engaged me and held my interest, I was left frustrated by a number of flaws that just undermined my enjoyment of it. The characters were unlikable and the plot was lacking the things I look for in an outstanding thriller.
The beginning was highly promising and the ending was great, but in between there too many issues for me. I love Lisa Jewell’s writing, but this was not her best novel.
My rating: ⭐⭐