Monday 23 July 2018

Tense thrillers to light up a grey January

The main character in debut novelist AJ Finn's 'The Woman In The Window' is obsessed with the classic film of the same name, starring Edward G Robinson and Joan Bennett
The main character in debut novelist AJ Finn's 'The Woman In The Window' is obsessed with the classic film of the same name, starring Edward G Robinson and Joan Bennett
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

'Girl' has been a bestselling noun in book titles of late, and has morphed into 'woman' and 'wife' in two thrillers this January, The Woman in the Window and The Innocent Wife. A third 'girl' title is here - The Girl Before. All three are signed up to become movies, with a common theme: liars - the lowest of the low.

Thriller writers would be lost without pathological liars. In his debut novel, The Woman in the Window [Harper Collins €16], American, AJ Finn demonstrates a phenomenal understanding of the psychopath, the superficial charm, the labile personality - the flat effect.

Dr Anna Fox is a child psychologist who has become an agoraphobic within the last year.

Social media, online chats and food delivery means she can feel safe locked in her house, her hallway being the buffer zone between her wine sanctuary and the wild word outside.

Anna lives on upper west side New York, in a charming brownstone, with a dubious tenant in the basement. Her husband and child no longer live there, for reasons that haunt the narrative until the end.

Her kitchen window overlooks a terrace of houses where she daily observes, through her camera lens, deception and hidden familial traits. But is she imagining infidelity, and even murder, through her regular overdose of Merlot and medication?

The local police officers are inclined to think so. Her addiction to classic films only adds to the Hitchcockian drama she reports to the police, who despairingly challenge her authenticity. Every angle is pure noir. Not all Pinot noir. Aside from the tense plotline, the writing is magnetic and taut with an intellectual subtext.

Creative writing graduates are identified by their succinct sentences, turning nouns into verbs; such as, a cat 'figure eights around Ethan's legs and vaults to his lap'; Jane 'steeples her fingers'; and 'unpastes her eyes'; 'I ford the park'; and 'breath fountained from my mouth'. That alone was an innovative discovery.

Amy Lloyd was the unanimous winner of a UK writing competition, her debut is The Innocent Wife [Penguin Random House €15]. Lloyd is apparently fascinated by true crime and combines this with a talent for nail-biting fiction.

Her character, Samantha, a British schoolteacher, is obsessed with a documentary about an 18-year-old on death row for the gory murder of schoolgirl, Holly Michaels.

Dennis Danson is inundated with letters from fans around the world who believe he is innocent. At 36 he receives Samantha's letter. His response captivates her and she falls for him. She even marries him. His conviction is overturned - of course there were failures in the investigation. But is he that innocent?

The Girl Before [Quercus €12] is the debut psychological thriller by JP Delaney, a writer with many books under other names.

His demon character is an architect, Edward Monkford, and if you don't know what narcissistic personality disorder is, you will learn from this.

Edward's house, One Folgate Street, north London, is the centre for his manipulation of two strikingly similar women.

Emma used to live there and Jane is the new game. Edward, the minimalist, bans clutter of any order, including curtains. Being very rich, he has the power to disappear at short notice and invent how busy he is.

In alternating chapters labelled "Then: Emma" and "Now: Jane" he plays the women, consciously setting up parallels and having them perform the same thing to satisfy him.

A narcissist can't survive with one woman, several are required to fulfil the myriad of fake lives they lead. It's also how they become rich. Aside from being a nerve-wracking novel, it's informative too.

For non-fiction fans that declare fiction is just 'made up', my response has always been that fiction makes you realise you're not alone in your thoughts.

The best novels share the reality of global mental agility and incapacity, and connect you with an understanding that it is not your imagination how weird some people can be.

It is said that a liar looks to the left when faking it. Watch out.

More cracking crime landed in the bookshops this month, so Deirdre Conroy reviews a trio of great new thrillers

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