Source: Review copy
Publication: 2nd February 2023 from Simon & Schuster UK
My thanks to Simon & Schuster UK and Laura Sherlock for an advance copy for review
Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong man.
Alex lives a comfortable life with his wife Beth in the leafy suburb of Silver Vale. Fine, so he’s not the most sociable guy on the street, he prefers to keep himself to himself, but he’s a good husband and an easy-going neighbour.
That’s until Beth announces the creation of a nature trail on a local site that’s been disused for decades and suddenly Alex is a changed man. Now he’s always watching. Questioning. Struggling to hide his dread . . .
As the landscapers get to work, a secret threatens to surface from years ago, back in Alex’s twenties when he got entangled with a seductive young woman called Marina, who threw both their lives into turmoil.
And who sparked a police hunt for a murder suspect that was never quite what it seemed. It still isn’t.
No one else could have done it. Could they?
Louise Candlish’s The Only Suspect is a whole lot of enjoyment wrapped up in an intriguing domestic noir. This book has a dual timeline, switching between now and a period during the mid-1990’s. These two timelines are narrated by Alex and Rick respectively.
Louise Candlish does a great job of establishing her characters. Both Alex and Rick lead pretty dull lives; both are auditors. Rick is a trainee in a large firm and lives in a flat share. His life changes when he meets Marina, a temp who works in his building. After liking her from afar, he finally plucks up the courage to talk to her and they bond over some frozen yoghurt.
Alex lives in the suburbs with his wife. He’s happy enough, though the couple are coming to terms with the fact that they are destined to be childless and that’s hard – especially for Beth, Alex’s wife. But this comfortable life is threatened when Alex learns that a campaign his wife has been involved in, to create a nature trail close to their house, has been successful and that work is about to start on creating this trail.
Louise Candlish is excellent at creating normal, ordinary characters and then giving them dark and deadly secrets. Rick is a bit of a shy lad and as his relationship with Marina progresses and he falls ever more deeply for her, we can only watch with dread as it becomes more complex, tricky and then finally, fraught with danger.
What Candlish does really well is to make her characters ordinary and believable. I had empathy for hapless Rick, a love-struck young man and when things started to get tricky, I found myself urging him to think twice before getting further committed in this relationship as Marina starts to become ever harder to pin down.
Alex is less likeable. He is constantly on edge and his behaviour after he learns of this nature trail becomes ever more narky and erratic. It is very clear that he is hiding something and that whatever is going on he is caught up in something that is making him exceedingly antsy.
All this serves to ensure that both these central characters are caught up in increasingly tense situations. Rick takes on a new flatmate in Rollo – and while this seems to be a good thing for him, given Rollo’s easy, party going, approach to life, it still isn’t enough to distract him from Marina’s increasingly twitchy behaviour.
I love the way that Louise Candlish builds up a great rounded picture of her perfectly average characters and then she makes them jealous, gives them obsessions and finally pulls them ever deeper into dangerous situations. She fills her pages full of tense and tricky moments and leads her characters down dangerous paths and then makes those paths so twisty it’s no longer clear what direction we are headed in. Those ordinary people become more devious and grow ever closer to danger.
Verdict: If you read a lot of psychological thrillers as I do, you will see some of what is coming, but by no means all and even then, I found that I was so wrapped up in these characters that I needed to know how all this was going to end. And the ending, when it came was beautifully judged, damned surprising and altogether satisfying. The Only Suspect is a fabulously tense and surprisingly unpredictable read.
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Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of fourteen novels. Our House, a #1 bestseller, won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards, was longlisted for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award. It is soon to be a major ITV drama made by Death in Paradise producers Red Planet Pictures. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter.
Photo: Neil Spence