Friday 20 September 2019

Twists aplenty from master of the red herring

Fiction: One Click, Andrea Mara, Poolbeg Press, hardback, 400 pages, €12.65

Dark web: Andrea Mara's second novel deals with the dangers of social media
Dark web: Andrea Mara's second novel deals with the dangers of social media
One Click by Andrea Mara

Ann Dunne

Following on the success of her chilling debut novel, The Other Side of the Wall, a dark psychological thriller, which was shortlisted for the Kate O'Brien Award in 2018, Andrea Mara is back with more murder and mystery.

Her second novel is timely, dealing with the dangers lurking in dark corners of social media, with cyberstalkers, trolls and fake profiles. After her husband leaves her and moves in with neighbour Nadine, psychologist Lauren Elliot takes their two daughters on holiday to Venice where she snaps a photo of a beautiful young woman sunbathing on the beach.

Despite her daughters' protests about using a photo without permission, Lauren, who is also a blogger, can't resist posting the photo online with the caption "how I wish I'd spent my twenties". A nightmarish plot of horror and torment develops from the unintended consequences of that one click.

The post goes viral, mostly with positive comments, but Lauren begins to receive ominous messages from somebody called VIN, who seems to know everything she is doing in Venice and pesters her for the name of the woman in the post. Before returning to Ireland, Lauren meets Cleo, the woman from the photo, an American living in Dublin who is very understanding about her image going viral. Cleo thinks she knows the identity of VIN - a man back home in the US who blames her for the death of his sister and her ex-boyfriend. She decides to track him down but is in for a shock.

Back home, Lauren is dealing with Jonathan, a difficult client who seems to know a lot about her... and VIN does, too. Considering Lauren posts what she has for breakfast, this is not surprising, but how does VIN know what perfume she wears or when she is napping on her couch?

The sense of foreboding is palpable. She feels spooked in her own house, especially on the nights when the girls are with their dad. Ex-husband Dave is unsympathetic and lectures her about putting her life online. Next-door neighbour Claire is a shoulder to cry on but by now everyone is a suspect, even the journalist who interviews her for a story on trolls and cyberstalking. The only kindly person is Grace, Nadine's cleaning lady, who reveals some shocking news about Dave and Nadine.

But Mara is a master of the red herring and there are lots of plot twists to keep the reader guessing until the terrifying end when Lauren figures out who is hiding behind VIN's fake profile. Once again, Mara has produced a gripping story of suspense that will have you on the edge of your seat to the last.

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