Published: 22nd March 2018
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Lou Wandsworth is used to being headline news as, aged seventeen, she ran away with her 37-year-old teacher, Mike, during a short-lived affair.
Now 32, Lou’s life is in tatters – and she resolves to return home to confront Mike for the damage he has caused. But she soon finds that Mike is unchanged, and is now grooming a young 15-year-old girl called Chloe.
Determined to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself, Lou decides to take matters into her own hands. But Mike is a predator of the worst kind, and as she tries to bring him to justice, it’s clear that Lou could once again become his prey…
The concept promised much but ultimately this was a book that did not deliver, rendering it a huge missed opportunity. There are powerful themes throughout what is a dark plot featuring a cross-generational range of perspectives, but although the author’s intentions are sound enough, they are undermined by a host of fundamental flaws in terms of its execution.
It is a thriller that contains sinister characters and the occasional race against time, but twists and genuine suspense are both in short supply as the emphasis is instead placed on the psychological aspects of the story. The difficult themes are handled with the right amount of sensitivity, but the misshapen structure and the frequency with which the reader has to suspend their disbelief leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
When she was only 14 years of age, Louise Wandsworth was in her relationship with her karate teacher Mike Hughes, a man in his thirties. He groomed her and took her away to France, only for them to be found and brought back to the UK where he was jailed for five years despite Louise not feeling able to testify against him at his trial.
Nearly two decades have passed and Louise is still scarred by what happened, failing to maintain any serious relationships. She abruptly leaves her current boyfriend Ben and returns to her hometown of Malvern in order to confront the free-again Mike, while also clearing out her parents’ house following the death of her father.
After discovering that Mike now works as a delivery and maintenance driver, Louise tracks him down to the local garden centre where she sees him kissing Chloe Meadows, a 13-year-old girl. Determined to prevent Chloe from becoming another of his victims, Louise takes extreme measures to try and make him pay for his crimes, but it turns out that there is someone waging a campaign against her too.
The subject matter means that it is easy to develop an emotional connection to the plot and as such there are some moving moments, especially in relation to Chloe and what happened to Louise when she was a child. However, there are few high points beyond that as the pacing was surprisingly slow and the characters extremely frustrating, making a catalogue of irrational decisions.
Despite everything she has been through, Louise’s method of taking justice into her own hands with Mike is remarkably foolish and the actions she took became increasingly eyebrow-raising. The way the story plays out from there makes it feel quite far-fetched and lacking in subtlety, while the ending is predictable if a little convoluted.
The book is told from three different perspectives with the main one being that of Louise, who is written in the first person. Each of her chapters are prefaced by a flashback to her time in France with Mike, and it is these passages that are the most effective as they give a chilling account of their relationship and her feelings for him at the time.
In the present the author does a good job of communicating how Louise is still affected many years on, with insights into her fear and restlessness, so therefore it is surprising to note that she is not what you would describe as likeable. The best thing that can be said is that she returns to Malvern with good intentions, but then proceeds to go about it in completely the wrong way.
Chloe is realised in the third person and her point of view is rather heartbreaking. She was easily the character whom I connected with the most, showing a naivety that is understandable for her age along with a vulnerability that felt very raw. Her storyline enters some dark places, not helped by having an abusive father, and as the reader you end up desperate for her to make the right choices.
The final and most unique perspective is that of Wendy. At first it is interesting to consider where she might fit into the plot, but it soon becomes obvious. Seeing the world through her eyes is not at all fun – she is narcissistic and permanently paranoid in a way that really threatens to get inside your head, which is just a bit discomforting. Then again, she is presented more as a morally grey character with some twisted thoughts.
For all of Wendy’s calculating ways, there is no more evil character in this book than Mike. We know right from the start that he is the villain, and he is as horrible and depraved an individual as you could imagine, as well as being a pathological liar. On the flipside we have Louise’s boyfriend Ben, who is remarkably tolerant in the circumstances and it is sometimes hard not to feel sorry for him.
Although none of them are expanded upon in great detail, each of the settings are given a sense of place, especially the resort where Chloe goes on holiday and Louise’s home in Malvern – the latter in particular is made to feel musty and decrepit. The writing was deliberate and concise, but it did not have the fast pace and unpredictability that we often associate with C.L. Taylor.
And now we come to the book’s most unforgivable issue; a shambolic failure on behalf of both the author and the editors. Simply put, this story is set in 2007, but that basic fact is seemingly forgotten on several occasions as there are a number of anachronisms. These include several references to social media outlets and online services that did not exist back then such as Instagram and Snapchat, while there are also mentions of songs that were released in 2012 and 2014 respectively. To continually notice these mistakes was unbelievably exasperating.
Overall, this was an immensely frustrating read. There are definitely areas where it emphatically triumphs, such as the flashbacks and the unsettling depiction of Chloe’s troubled state of mind, but they are overshadowed by a slightly outlandish plot and editorial errors which conspire to make it a disappointment. Sadly not a thriller that is worth writing home about.
There are a lot of content warnings for this book, the main one being the fact that the plot revolves around a sexual predator who has inappropriate relationships with teenage girls. As a result, there are descriptions of grooming and sexual assault.
Aside from that, there is a sub-plot involving depression and suicidal thoughts, along with unsettling violence and references to alcoholism.
I was looking forward to this one as I had heard that it was among C.L. Taylor’s best novels, but despite some effective writing and good handling of sensitive topics, the execution leaves plenty to be desired in my mind.
My rating: ⭐⭐