Published: 23rd April 2017
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Trigger warnings: Anxiety, drugs, references to child abuse
When a stranger asks Jo Blackmore for a lift she says yes, then swiftly wishes she hadn’t. The stranger knows Jo’s name, she knows her husband Max and she’s got a glove belonging to Jo’s two year old daughter Elise.
What begins with a subtle threat swiftly turns into a nightmare as the police, social services and even Jo’s own husband turn against her. No one believes that Elise is in danger. But Jo knows there’s only one way to keep her child safe – RUN.
This is a thriller that uses every conceivable trick in the book to draw the reader in and make you think twice about everything that happens and every word that is said. Along the way we have massive red herrings, extremely unreliable narrators, and a menacing plot that goes out of its way to ensure a plentiful supply of tension and urgency.
Throughout a story that contains multiple narratives and tenses as well as a notable change of setting and tone, I was very much along for the ride. It was an at times pulsating read, aided by a fast pace that never relented, and the presence of unexpected surprises. The full picture took some time to emerge, and when it did I was made to reconsider what had happened before as the stakes grew even higher.
At first it appeared that it was going to follow a common thriller formula, but as the plot develops there are multiple strands introduced that added to the scale of the story. It was entertaining for sure, but unquestionably over-dramatic, as there were several moments that felt contrived and not really believable.
This was the one main aspect that undermined the book for me. Although it was multi-layered and full of complexity, which certainly helped the story achieve a high level of intensity, it weakened some of the book’s credibility. To make it work, the plot relied too heavily on some very unlikely coincidences.
The ominous tone is set right from the start, where Jo is on her way to collect her two-year-old daughter Elise from nursery when she agrees to give a lift to a complete stranger, a middle-aged woman called Paula. She immediately regrets it, as it turns out that Paula knows Elise’s name, and that of her husband Max.
From there, Paula continues to harass Jo, who suffers from anxiety and agoraphobia. With her marriage already on the brink of collapse, things get progressively worse as a number of incidents take place which cause her to fear for the safety of Elise. Soon the police, social services, and even her husband turn against her and cast doubt on her character.
It all becomes too much for Jo, and she decides that she has no other option but to run. Jo goes to exceptional lengths to avoid being tracked down, but continues to live in fear, from which she finds it impossible to truly escape until she is able to prove that she is an innocent victim and not a danger to Elise.
From a psychological standpoint, the writing is excellent. It is clear that a lot of thought went into this, as C.L. Taylor succeeds expertly in throwing the reader off the scent. There were many times in the first half of the book in particular where it is hard to know who to trust or believe, and the way some of the themes are handled completely added to that.
The story is primarily told from the first person perspective of Jo, but large swathes are also written in the third person, focusing on other characters. All of these are written fantastically well and act as the book’s biggest strength, bringing plenty of intrigue until the truth eventually becomes abundantly clear.
Jo’s anxiety and fear of leaving the house plays an enormous role in the story, and it was powerfully conveyed. The representation here is realistic and raw, and it was somewhat frightening how other characters exploited it to make Jo appear unstable, but that only made me empathise with her more. The theme of grief is also explored in great detail, and to similar effect.
At first, Jo is made to seem like a very unreliable narrator. She was at times deceitful and very flawed in the decisions she made, but they were often done out of fear and good intentions, even if it did frustrate me at times! By contrast, Max was a very selfish and unlikable character who I liked less and less as the story continued.
One of the most interesting characters in the book is Mary, who is not properly introduced until close to the halfway point. While her storyline is steeped in coincidence, her perspective brings a new dynamic and an extra sense of curiosity that had me on the edge of my seat, wondering how the book would finish.
The book takes place is several different settings, but the main one is the small town of Clogherhead in Ireland, during the second half of the book. I thought this setting was captured and developed very well, and the shift in tone from the early parts that are set in England is clearly discernible.
The writing contains the kind of sinister atmosphere that I have become used to seeing from C.L. Taylor, but in terms of tension and plot this is my favourite one I have read from her so far. The only real complaint I have is that the final chapter was too much of an info-dump, but otherwise it was sufficiently gripping.
Overall, this was a psychological thriller in almost every sense. There are clever uses of misdirection and thorough explorations of sensitive topics, and characters who may not turn out to be what they originally seem. The plot may be far-fetched in places, but it still had me fully invested up until the last page.
An exciting thriller and definitely my favourite C.L. Taylor book so far.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5