Tuesday 21 November 2017

Books: Women are disappearing

Thriller: The Game Changer, Louise Phillips, Hatchette Books, tpbk, 422 pages, €17.99

Author Louise Phillips: One of the best crime writers in Ireland.
Author Louise Phillips: One of the best crime writers in Ireland.

Sean Farrell

Kate Pearson is back in Louise Phillips' fourth book featuring the Irish criminal psychologist.

But it's a different Kate Pearson in what is arguably the author's most ambitious novel yet. The Pearson stories are set in real time and events have moved on since Last Kiss. Kate has finally split up with her husband, though relations appear fairly amicable over access to Charlie, their son. She is now living with her collaborator in earlier books, Detective Inspector Adam O Connor. She has scaled down her work and is enjoying life.

But not for long. When Adam is called out in the middle of the night to cover the apparent suicide of the Chief Superintendent's brother-in-law, it sets off a chain of events in which Kate becomes not only professional adviser but one of those intimately involved. The dead man, O'Neill, was an acquaintance of her late father and his death is suspiciously like that of his foster child, a friend of Kate's who had died when she was 12. O'Neill withdrew large sums of money before his death, raising the possibility of blackmail. Curiously, also, some of his DNA had been found at the murder scene in New York of an Irish emigrant known to Kate's father.

Then an anonymous note is pushed under Kate's front door: "I remember you, Kate." It stirs up memories, some latent, some forgotten. For Kate has a childhood secret. Aged 12, she had been abducted and had blotted out the memory of subsequent events. She learns that her parents had lied to her about her missing episode and wonders what else they lied about. Were there events in the past in some way linking her father with the two recent deaths? When more notes arrive, Kate realises she is being stalked. Adam can promise protection but is it enough? And what happened when Kate was abducted?

Enter the Game Changer and a complicated parallel story. People are disappearing, vulnerable women for the most part, having, like O'Neill, manifested signs of depression and also having withdrawn large amounts of money before vanishing. All had reportedly been attending self-help and "enlightenment" courses. Kate, consulted, and amidst her own troubles and fears, suspects a cult, with all its sinister connotations. But who heads up the cult and could there be some connection with whoever is stalking Kate? To reveal more would be to spoil what is another enjoyable Louise Phillips' novel. The pace fairly zips along with over one hundred short chapters and frequent switches in points of view helping to stoke and maintain the tension. Kate and Adam are plausible and well-drawn characters with complex personalities and a relationship to match, not always an idyllic one. The dialogue throughout is handled excellently.

If there is a criticism, it is that the parallel story has sufficient depth and appeal to have constituted a novel in its own right. Several of the "disappeared" are sketched expertly and sympathetically, highlighting why they would be vulnerable to a plausible con operation like a cult. There's also a surprising parallel minor hero who helps link the two narratives at a level other than that of police investigation.

Finally, the author's capacity for descriptive prose is given full expression, in particular in two scenes, one an account of a very distressed woman, the other a chapter in which a six-year-old describes the world she sees around her. This last piece was also that chosen by the author to read at the formal book launch. Unsurprisingly. She's a first-class crime writer who can really write.

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