Review by Linda Hepworth
Publisher: Avon 8th July 2021
ISBN: 978-0008400040 PB
Laura and Liam cancelled their honeymoon to a ‘Greek island paradise’ when Laura became deeply depressed following her mother’s death immediately after their wedding. Although not fully recovered, the medication she’s been taking appears to be helping to lighten her mood and so now, two months later, they have arrived in Scotland to spend a week on an uninhabited island just off the coast, staying in an eighteenth-century forge which has been converted into a luxury holiday home. Whilst they wait for the misty weather to clear sufficiently for the boatman to take them over, they have a drink in The Bucket of Blood, the local pub – maybe its very name should have had them heading for home! When Liam goes out of the bar for a few minutes, the locals tell Laura the island has a tragic past and is haunted … and cursed. Liam finds it easy to shrug off the stories and, wanting to enjoy spending time with her new husband on their delayed honeymoon, Laura decides to follow his lead. However, although their accommodation is everything they’d hoped for, it isn’t long before they suspect they aren’t alone on the island, that they are being watched. Their suspicions are confirmed when they wake one morning to discover a message scratched into one of the windows. Who is this person? Why are they being stalked? And why does this stranger apparently want to kill them?
The first three-quarters of this thriller are told through the first-person narrative of Laura, interspersed with brief first-person reflections from ‘The Stalker’. Then there is a sudden switch, taking the reader back to several months earlier, as another first-person voice is introduced to begin to clarify the various ‘hints’ which had been dropped in the earlier chapters, to reveal the big ‘twist’ on which the plotting rested and to help carry the story though to its conclusion. As I’d already more or less worked where it was going by that point, I found that rather than adding to any psychological tension which had been generated, the suddenness of the switch immediately diluted it. However, even prior to that I’d felt that the inexorable build-up of tension I look for in a psychological thriller was missing because, from the earliest pages, I found there were just too many clues about where the story was heading. I also found that there were several inconsistencies in the story which undermined the credibility of the plot.
I’m finding it impossible to give any examples without running the risk of introducing spoilers, so I feel all I can say is that these aspects of the author’s storytelling were disappointing. However, I was more impressed with her character development. Although I found it difficult to warm to any of them, I thought she used them well to introduce a number of disturbing themes (including toxic co-dependency in relationships, physical and sexual abuse, bereavement, depression) and to credibly explore the long-term effects of these.
To conclude on a more positive note, the author’s highly evocative descriptions of the island, with its ancient Viking and Celtic history, its ruined castle and chapel, its more recent tragic history, its beautiful beaches, the views of distant mountains on the mainland, enabled me to feel that I was accompanying Laura and Liam as they explored and, like them, was able to rejoice in its wild beauty. Then, as the storm hit and the actions of their stalker became increasingly threatening, she was equally effective in capturing their escalating sense of fear as they faced the downside of a lack of any connectivity with the ‘outside world’ and the impossibility of being able to summon help – it’s enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine!