Did her baby really die? She's determined to find out.

Delays at the dentist? Traffic on the tube? It must be bonus reading time.

Bonus reading time is what happens when you’re meant to be doing something else but there’s a hiccup and instead you get to read. This is why I always keep a book in my bag; you never know when you might get lucky delayed.

Hmm...order yummy food or go home and wash the dishes?

Hmm…order yummy food or go home and wash the dishes?

And so it happened that I read the first 100 pages of ‘Close My Eyes’ while enjoying a glass (alright, two glasses) of wine and some tapas at my local Loungers bar. I was waiting for a friend who was unable to meet me, though it was a while before I realised this. (I did consider going home, but my options were (a) stay and enjoy wine, my book and someone else preparing tasty food and washing up the dishes, or (b) cooking myself a cobbled together dinner, doing some housework and tending to the baby if when it woke up and cried. The wine book won.)

What’s it about?

Geniver Loxley lost her daughter, Beth, eight years ago. Since then, she has struggled to move on, while her husband has built a business empire. One day a stranger appears on her doorstep and tells her what she longs to hear: her daughter is alive. Could this be true? Gen is determined to find out, even if it means doubting her husband, her friends and her own sanity.

Sophie McKenzie is a well-known YA author who I first encountered when her teen thriller ‘Blood Ties’ was nominated for the Berkshire Book Award. (It was short listed for various other prizes and also won a fair few similar awards.) I was excited when I spotted this, her first thriller for an adult audience, and hoped it would live up to my expectations.

What’s it like?

Quietly engrossing, then increasingly dramatic. I was initially drawn-in by the portrait of a couple living their everyday lives, considering IVF, long married and no longer completely in tune with each other. Then – bam! The stranger arrives with her news at the end of chapter one. I like that McKenzie starts the action quickly (too many books seem to reveal half their plot in the blurb, so you’re left itching to move beyond your expectations) and the way her protagonist, Gen, is subsequently unsettled, slowly reaching into the murky past.

The characters are well-drawn and there’s plenty of doubt. Is Gen being conned? Can she trust her husband, Art, who seems desperate to leave Beth behind them? Is Art’s old friend Lorcan trying to cause mischief or does he really want to help Gen? And why is Gen’s best friend, Hen, colluding with Gen’s husband behind her back? I found the first couple of hundred pages gripping as I strove to decipher the truth, but when the truth began to surface I was dubious.

Reflections

McKenzie makes effective use of red herrings and retains ambiguity over who can be trusted for a long time.

The truth about Beth Loxley is far-fetched and there’s a lot of talking required to even begin to explain it, though if you accept the personalities McKenzie has taken care to establish, it all does make perfect (albeit twisted) sense. I felt the ending was a little OTT too, but again, if you really consider what’s at stake, it’s probably not. I think when I was reading I became almost irritated by the solution McKenzie created, but on reflection I’m not sure why. Possibly I was irritated by other, mostly very minor, details.

Why, oh why, is Gen incapable of moving forward without male support? (Why is this true of so many female protagonists? Why do none of them ever have real best friends they can rely on to help them solve their problems? Best friends who don’t just assume they’re mental? I assume the answer is partly that two women working co-operatively and sensibly to resolve issues wouldn’t be as thrilling, but why not? Does there really always HAVE to be sexual tension involved?) Why is she called Gen? What kind of name is ‘Art’? Or ‘Hen’?

Despite the minor irritations outlined above, I did enjoy this and thought it worked really well as a thriller. McKenzie makes effective use of red herrings and retains ambiguity over who can be trusted for a long time. She also effectively interweaves the main story with a few snippets of diary like text from a young child. It is unclear for a long time who the child is, but once the reader realises who it is, the diary voice helps provide a thoroughly chilling conclusion to the story.

Final thoughts

This novel is described as a ‘nerve-jangling thriller for fans of Gillian Flynn and Sophie Hannah’ on the back cover and I completely agree. However, the converse is also true. If you thought ‘Gone Girl’ implausible or that ‘Little Face’ involved too many long explanations of motives then this might not suit you.

As for me, I enjoyed this sufficiently to keep an eye out for more by Sophie McKenzie and the blurb for her second adult thriller, ‘Trust in Me’, sounds intriguing. Hopefully next time I’ll feel completely gripped throughout.

Before that though, it’s time to justify my recent impulse book buying by reading Tina Seskis’ ‘When we were friends’ before it sinks to the bottom of the TBR pile. Now if only I could be sure of some bonus reading time to help me make a good start…

Wine, book, candlelight + enough light to read by...perfect.

Wine, book, candlelight + enough light to read by…perfect.

‘Close My Eyes’
Sophie McKenzie
Simon & Schuster, 2013, paperback