Sometimes the most sinister stories are the ones that could happen to everyone. Ordinary people caught up in situations that arise from one wrong decision, trusting the wrong person, choosing the wrong path. A split second decision that can change your entire life. Stories that read like watching a train rumble towards the abyss and being unable to stop it. These two books are perfect examples of the genre and held me spellbound in their grip as I watched the characters self destruct ....
FOLLOW YOU HOME by Mark Edwards
“Unfortunately, real life has no erase button.”
I never enter a Mark Edwards novel without bracing myself, because I just know that he will bestow my worst nightmares on his hapless characters! Whether it’s evil houseguests taking over your home and refusing to leave (HERE TO STAY), or horrible neighbours (THE MAGPIES), or a missing child in a dark forest (THE RETREAT), Edwards has become a go-to author for me when I want a truly terrifying domestic noir thriller that messes with my mind. And I am happy to say that he has done it again with FOLLOW YOU HOME.
“This fucked-up situation, this mess, this horror story, had started with me, with a single unwitting mistake I’d made back then...” This seems to be Edwards’ theme in most of his novels, and can’t we all relate to that at some point in our lives!
If you are a traveller, you will undoubtedly have had a few interesting experiences that were horrible at the time but made for good stories later. Like the time I left our tickets in the hotel room and the whole airport shuttle had to turn around for us and go back, making everyone on the bus hate us. Or the time we didn’t know we needed a visa and got thrown from a night train at a lonely border crossing somewhere in Eastern Europe. So when I read about poor Laura and Daniel’s experience on the train through Romania, I shuddered and trembled and my heart rate sped up. This could never end well!
I love the way Edwards slowly builds tension, initially almost innocuously, luring you in until BAM! Here then is your worst nightmares come true. The young couple’s trip of a lifetime soon turns into a disaster of epic proportion when they not only get thrown off the train, but end up without their passports or phone contact in the middle of the night in a dark Romanian forest. What happens after this won’t be revealed much later in the story, except that we know it is so horrible that it has left lasting scars and has broken up Laura and Daniel’s relationship. This not knowing, this uncertainty, this speculation about what exactly happened to the couple was my favourite part of the story, because it created an almost unbearable tension. I was almost disappointed when the mystery was unravelled, because it took away some of the pulse-pounding suspense, even though of course I wanted to know the answers just as much as every other reader.
If you have read any of Edwards’ books, you will have noticed that they are never predictable and they don’t always end the way your justice craving self would like. Sometimes they even stray into the border territory of the great conspiracy theory or the type of events that are passed along the grapevine usually starting like this: “A friend of my second cousin’s godfather ....” Yes, there was A LOT happening here, and I had to suspend disbelief a bit to swallow it all, but it made for a heck of an entertaining read. I could see this book turned into the type of movie where you have to turn the volume low and peek through your fingers as the young couple stumble along the railway tracks in search of help.
With its creepy and ominous opening chapters, FOLLOW YOU HOME drew me in immediately and captivated me so fully that I read it all in the course of one day. If you haven’t read any of Mark Edwards’ books yet, then I warn you that his power lies in telling tales that could happen to anyone – you, your family, your neighbours, your friends – which makes them all the more terrifying. Edwards states that this story, too, had been inspired by true events, which is perhaps why the real-life tension is evident in every page. I really enjoyed it and look forward to being scared out of my wits by this author in future.
THE POISON TREE by Erin Kelly
Sometimes I really crave a slow-burning, character study of family secrets and relationships, and Erin Kelly does this so well! Whilst HE SAID / SHE SAID remains my all-time favourite by this author, I really enjoyed her portrayal of the friendships in THE POISON TREE.
One thing I love about Erin Kelly’s writing is the languid way in which she builds her spider’s web of growing tension that gradually entangles the reader and holds them in its spell. Just as Karen, the straight-A student and only child of conservative parents gradually falls under the spell of the bohemian Capel siblings and their rambling, tumble down English mansion. I could easily picture straight and slightly awkward Karen being bewitched by the outgoing siblings whose free and easy lifestyle must feel totally alien and enchanting to her. Biba Capel is the sort of character who blazes into people’s lives like a bright comet of destruction, dazzling them with her light but in the end only leaving smoking ruins behind. Rex, who is more subdued and stable than his sister, holds his own allure as the brooding, overprotective male counterpart to his vivacious sibling.
Despite the slow build-up, Kelly makes it very clear that nothing good can come from these dynamics. And whilst I did predict a major part of the “twist” (I read A LOT of these mysteries), I was still invested to watch the slow descend into disaster as both Karen and Rex act as if remote-controlled by Biba’s destructive hand. I love a good character study, and the way poor Karen gets drawn into the Capel siblings’ world was well executed. I related to some of Karen’s fascination with the Capel’s lives – “straight A student falls for more exciting personalities” is a theme that really does play out in real life. A wonderful premise for a novel that is part character study and part domestic thriller and will undoubtedly stun some readers with its twist.
All in all, THE POISON TREE should probably be avoided by readers who don’t enjoy a slow-burning mystery, because their attention may wane in the first half, when the interpersonal dynamics are being set up. However, lovers of a good character study will appreciate the way Kelly builds her characters’ relationships that ultimately lead to disaster. I felt like I was watching a train chugga-chugg towards the abyss, unable to stop it as it built momentum with its unsuspecting passengers still dazzled by Biba’s light. A well-written story simmering with an undercurrent of tension and menace. I look forward to reading more from this author in future!