Published: 6th August 2020
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Trigger warnings: References to rape and sexual assault, drug use, misogyny
When Saffyre Maddox was ten, something terrible happened, and she’s carried the pain of it ever since. The man who she thought was going to heal her didn’t, and now she hides, learning his secrets, invisible in the shadows.
Owen Pick is invisible too. He’s never had a girlfriend; he’s never even had a friend. Nobody sees him. Nobody cares.
Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family, headed by mum Cate, a physiotherapist, and dad Roan, a child psychologist. But the Fours family have a bad feeling about their neighbour Owen. He’s a bit creepy and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night.
But when Saffyre goes missing from opposite his house on Valentine’s night, suddenly the whole world is looking at Owen. Accusing him. Holding him responsible for Saffyre’s disappearance…
This book did not really live up to my expectations. While it is engagingly written and fast-paced to the extent that I only took a few days to finish it, the story lacks originality and contains a group of characters who I struggled to fully connect with. As a result, it was difficult to become seriously invested in the mystery, even if there are times where it throws up some interesting possibilities.
Told from three separate and well developed perspectives, it is fairly suspenseful and occasionally has you guessing the potential outcomes, but there is nothing that lifts it from an average thriller into a very good one. No edge of the seat moments and no genuine twists, just a series of events that play out in the company of Lisa Jewell’s veritably pleasant writing style.
The story takes place in Hampstead, where a spate of recent sexual assaults have taken place, placing the local neighbourhood on alert. Among the local residents is Cate Fours, whose daughter Georgia is followed home one evening by a suspicious man. The next day, Georgia’s friend Tilly claims to have been grabbed in the street, only to say later on that she lied.
Across the road, Owen Pick is a lonesome 33-year-old man who lives with his aunt, who does not even permit him to enter her living room. He has just been suspended from his job as a college lecturer in computer science, having been accused of inappropriate behaviour by female students. He strongly denies the allegations and his suspension brings about a resentment towards women that leads him into dark territory.
Meanwhile, Saffyre Maddox is a teenage girl who was sexually assaulted as a child and spent three years receiving support from Cate’s husband Roan, who is a child psychologist. After their sessions come to an end, Saffyre maintains a fascination with Roan and begins to watch his movements. But then she goes missing, and Owen, the outcast, is immediately the main suspect.
It is the characters who primarily drive the story, and you soon get to know them very well. I was particularly intrigued by Saffyre and her connection to Roan, only for things to play out in a much less complex way than I expected. The circumstances of Saffyre’s disappearance are mysterious, but much of the plot does follow a fairly predictable course, which was a little disappointing.
The biggest problem for me was that many elements just seemed a bit too similar to some of Lisa Jewell’s previous books, most notably Watching You. I felt like I had come across variations of these characters before and none of them, with the possible exception of Saffyre, held any surprises. There was hardly anything that felt especially unique about this story.
Saffyre is written in the first person, and she is definitely the character I identified with the most. She is clearly troubled and has a lot of flaws, but it was this vulnerability that made me sympathise with her in some ways. It was during her chapters that I felt most gripped by the plot and most of the tension seemed to arrive.
Cate and Owen’s perspectives are both told in the third person, and it takes a while for the reader to realise that these follow a different timeline to Saffyre’s. Almost the whole of Cate’s narrative takes place inside her house, as she spends most of her time trying to keep her marriage afloat or keeping an eye on the police investigation into the sexual assaults. There are some things I liked about Cate and she had an interesting family dynamic, but there was nothing too remarkable about her story.
For me, Owen just seemed a bit too much of a stereotype. He is another character with serious flaws, living a relatively sad life where seemingly everyone including his family treat him with indifference or suspicion. This does make you feel bad for him on the one hand, but there are also moments where he does not help himself.
Of the other characters, Roan and Josh were the most interesting. Roan is the kind of man who does not seem to care for anyone else’s feelings, so I came to dislike him at quite and early stage. There is a lot more to Josh than there initially appears, and he left me with mixed feelings. As for Alicia, she seems to undergo a major personality change towards the end of the book.
The London setting is given a lot of depth, with a few facts about the local history included for good measure. It is the writing though which makes this a decent read; it is concise, fast-paced, and it flows very well, so that partly made up for some of issues in the story. That said, the resolution did feel a bit too convenient, even if Lisa Jewell is at pains to say there is no such thing as a happy ending.
Overall, this is a thriller with good writing and a reasonable set of perspectives, but containing little in the way of originality or excitement. It hints at a thoroughly absorbing and complex plot, but it fails to really fulfil any of that promise. While it is not a complete disaster, it certainly does not stand out from other books in the genre either.
A decent read, but not one of Lisa Jewell’s best. There are interesting moments and the writing is good, but not much else to really shout about.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐