Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Missing – C.L. Taylor

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller

Fifteen year old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, no one saw him leave that night and six months on they have no idea if he is dead or alive, all they know is that there has been no sight of him since he disappeared.

C.L. Taylor’s writing takes us into the Wilkinson household in the aftermath of the disappearance and with unnerving skill sums up the multitude of emotions that most of us don’t even want to imagine. We see this mainly through the eyes of Claire as she begins to suffer amnesic episodes bought on by the trauma of losing her youngest son. Through this medium we see how the other members of the household are faring; Mark his father who had an argument with Billy because of his persistent graffiti habit, his brother Jake who has lost his work-ethic and Jake’s girlfriend Kira who is living with them. With each member of the household hiding something, are any of those secrets the key to where Billy is?

Inserted between the narrative are messages between two unknown characters, these are of a disturbing nature but what connection do they have to the mystery of where Billy went and why? The tension mounts as the messages become darker, this aspect really got under my skin in a way that this device rarely does as I pondered their meaning and who they came from. I really thought I had the answer of who was writing one side of these at least, but I was totally off track!

The success of this author’s books is down to characterisation. I felt I knew Claire, she came across as level-headed but understandably grief-stricken but one thing kept her going, she believed that Billy was alive. At the start of the book her and Mark attend a second televised appeal for information, she goes out looking for Billy in and around Bristol to the places he tagged with his graffiti, she visits his school, talks to his friend and repeats. She even keeps her patience with her mother who recommends psychics to find Billy. She is a kind and good woman who loves her children, cares for Kira whose own family life was in chaos and has a close friend who mercifully treats her as normal thereby giving her a brief respite from the overwhelming sympathy which alternates with barbed comments that the family must have something to hide – a fifteen year old boy doesn’t vanish into thin air.

The secondary characters are sufficiently well-drawn to also come across as real people, particularly Mark’s reaction to his son’s disappearance which is to strive to keep going at work and to ignore the whispers about his possible involvement. Kira’s shyness, her inability to interact with Claire in any meaningful way was also authentic, after all most adults would struggle to cope, let alone a student who has recently left home due to problems.

The icing on the cake is the fabulous plotting which allows the tension to build incrementally from the very beginning to the superb dénouement.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to HarperCollins UK who gave me a copy of this book before publication today, 7 April 2016. This review is my thank you to them and the author for such a fantastic read.

C.L. Taylor has written two other psychological thrillers; The Accident and The Lie, both superb but this one just had the edge for me – if you enjoy the exploration of the mind and you haven’t read any of these, you are in for a real treat!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Lie – C.L. Taylor

Psychological Thriller 4*'s
Psychological Thriller

C.L. Taylor has chosen one of the most the under-represented relationships to feature in psychological thrillers for The Lie which features friendship. When Al breaks up with Simone she is distraught and takes to stalking her and her new partner on facebook and in real life. Her three closest friends from their days at Newcastle university; Emma, Daisy and Leanne decide that action is needed and hit on a holiday to a retreat in Nepal where there is no internet, to help Al break the cycle and learn to let her failed relationship go.

In the present day we meet Emma Woolfe who has moved to Wales and works in an animal sanctuary, has a fledgling relationship with a teacher and is happier than she has ever been, but for some reason she is no longer Emma, she now goes by the name of Jane Hughes. Worse still an anonymous letter alerts her that someone has tracked her down. And so the questions begin; What happened on the holiday? What is she trying to conceal? And who is trying to expose Jane?

Told in alternating scenes from five years previously on the trip and in the present day the author maintains the tension exceptionally well. This book works so well as an expose of the unsavoury side of female friendships without the accompanying mystery that it makes for quite uncomfortable reading at times. I certainly recognised some of the individuals although the author stops well short of creating stereotypical characters. With the cracks in their friendship already present before the trip, the author perfectly captures how allegiances are formed to serve ulterior motives and in this tale each member of the group did their best not to be excluded from the pack, probably a wise move in a setting where the rules of normal life had been swept away and substituted for those of a new age cult.

There is also a good sense of place with the descriptions of Nepal beautiful and evocative so that I could imagine the scenery although I wouldn’t have been too keen on the trek to the Ektanta yatra retreat. During that scene I could almost feel my muscles burning as the group followed their guide up the rough path and equally could visualise their relief when they were welcomed with a cup of chai.

I am a huge fan of psychological thrillers and in this crowded genre it is great to find something that stands apart from the crowd, The Lie does exactly that from the unusual setting to the relationships being put under the microscope. That accompanied with the excellent pace which has tension ratcheting up in both the past and the present, this is a great addition to the genre.

I’d like to thank the publishers Harper Collins UK for allowing me to read this great book which will be published on 23 April 2015. If you can’t wait that long you could always get yourself a copy of the author’s debut The Accident which I also highly recommend.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Accident – C.L. Taylor

Psychological Thriller 4*'s
Psychological Thriller

Fifteen year old Charlotte is in a coma, the legacy of having been hit by a bus, Sue her mother is at her bedside desperate to find the key to bring her round and she is sure that the key is that fateful sentence that she has read in Charlotte’s diary; ‘keeping this secret is killing me.’ The book is about Sue’s search for the elusive secret and this quickly overshadows the day to day worry of her daughter’s condition. An oddity of this book is that we learn very little about Charlotte as a person although we learn through her mother’s investigation, about some of the things she’s done, nothing that gives the essence of Charlotte.

The book is narrated by Sue with excerpts from her diary written in the early 1990’s when she met James, a man who was to change her life. Through the diary entries we learn more about Sue which allows the reader to forgive her clumsy attempts at detective work. Sue is nothing if not direct, she frightens Charlotte’s friend Ella, she accuses her husband, she points the finger at the school and as the reader we watch her anxiety levels rise as she struggles to convince everyone that she is coping.

I really enjoyed the diary sections; the descriptions of Sue’s relationship with James was so authentic it gave me goosebumps on occasions as the young Sue struggled to understand her own feelings and those of the charismatic James. Likewise Sue’s relationship with Brian, her husband was a good portrayal of a couple pulling in different directions wanting to believe their own truths and not able to confront a future without their beautiful daughter.

What stopped this being a five star read? Not a great deal, but some of the past events were inaccurate with one event in particular (which I can’t share for fear of spoiling a part of the story) couldn’t have happened as described in the 90’s. I also found myself wondering at some of Sue’s decisions, there were times when I needed to remind myself that this is a story and the character could behave as she wished and although it didn’t break my connection with the story it did stretch it a little.

I enjoyed this well-paced psychological thriller which was backed up by engaging writing. I’m a big fan of books that are centred on secrets and the ones in The Accident had woven themselves into the fabric of this family. The way C.L. Taylor reveals them is perfect as they reluctantly bought into the open and examined. Even better this book is backed up by the perfect twist at the end, something I hadn’t predicted but made perfect sense along with a small action that linked the beginning and the end!