Sunday 18 August 2019

Masterful debut full of foreboding and malevolence

Thriller: The Other Side of the Wall, Andrea Mara, Poolbeg Crimson,paperback, 400 pages, €9.99

Gripping read: Andrea Mara
Gripping read: Andrea Mara

Ann Dunne

When things go bump in the night, is it the delirious imaginings of sleep-deprived protagonist Sylvia, who is up every night with her crying baby, or is it something more sinister?

From the outset, this psychological thriller, by promising new Irish writer Andrea Mara, will have you checking that your windows and doors are locked at night. In the Dublin suburb of Dún Laoghaire, a toddler goes missing. Nearby, in her quiet cul-de-sac, Sylvia is juggling a difficult return to work after parental leave with managing her children. She is completely exhausted.

One night she sees a child face-down in the pond next door. She races into the neighbour's garden but there is nothing there and nobody answering the door. There are more strange occurrences, broken flower pots, a pool of water on her kitchen floor and objects moved around.

Meanwhile, the seemingly nice young couple Kate and Sam have recently moved in next door. Nobody has met them yet, as Kate has taken their two children to Galway for the summer while Sam renovates the house, with the help of his cousin, Michael. When Kate receives an anonymous letter accusing Sam of cheating on her, she heads straight to Dublin and finds ­evidence of another woman in her house.

Leaving a note, she tells Sam not to contact her and from there on, they conduct their correspondence by text message. Luckily, cousin Michael is there as a go-between, even bringing the son's birthday present from Sam down to Galway. The only other person who calls to the house is Kate's brother, who is a bit of a loner and draws the reader's suspicion.

But all is not as it seems. A nightmare of Stephen King proportions is happening next door and we are taken into a dark underworld. Sylvia is the only one who is wary of Sam while everyone else is charmed by him, except for one other neighbour, who also goes missing. As the tension increases in this clever plot, Mara injects a few red herrings and many twists and turns. It is not until Sylvia and Kate meet that the truth begins to unfold, bringing the story to a highly-charged and dramatic conclusion.

A freelance writer and award-winning blogger, Mara lives in Dún Laoghaire with her husband and three children.

She was encouraged to write by Irish author Margaret Scott (The Fallout). The result is this masterful debut, which combines the ordinary themes of working mothers and modern suburbia, with all the foreboding malevolence of a Jeffery Deaver novel.

A gripping read that is hard to put down and would make a great movie. Her next book is due out in 2018. Can't wait!

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