Sunday, May 22, 2016

Keep You Close

by Lucie Whitehouse
Bloomsbury USA     2016
368 pages     Thriller

There is nothing like a psychological thriller to speed up the adrenaline and leave the dirty dishes in the sink! Or in my case, leave two little grandchildren watching Hotel Transylvania so I could get the book finished before their bedtime.

Rowan (love that name) responds to the death of her estranged childhood friend, Marianne, by moving into her house ostensibly to house sit in the weeks after the funeral. Apparently Marianne, a gifted and prominent artist, fell to her death from the rooftop of her childhood house, but Rowan is convinced that it wasn't accidental or suicide.  Rowan sets out to reconstruct Marianne's life in the years since they last saw each other ten years before. She received a mysterious note in the mail from Marianne, "I need to talk to you, " and she is propelled to try to solve what she considers to be the crime.

As a child, Rowan's own family life was a bit of a disaster, and when she became acquainted with Marianne at school, she was also accepted as a surrogate member of her family, the Glass family. Seb Glass was a serial philanderer, and as teenagers Rowan and Marianne obsess over the possibility of the family breaking up over his affairs. Rowan also becomes a bit obsessed over Marianne's older brother Adam, who she has kissed at a party one night. There are many loose pieces to Rowan's relationship with the Glass family, and as she sits in their family house, she sifts through Marianne's art and interviews the people involved in her life, trying to knit all the pieces together.

It isn't long before the reader begins to realize that Rowan is an unreliable narrator, in the style of Rachel from The Girl on the Train. There are too many pieces that don't fit together; too many people with questions; too much involvement with the police. Rowan becomes increasingly incoherent, and we begin to sense that there is a lot that we don't know or understand. 

At one point, a famous artist named Cory, who was in the midst of doing a portrait of Marianne when she died, does a sketch of Rowan as he is talking with her. "It had taken him ten minutes, less, even but he'd got her. There she was, not the version of herself that she liked, the best angle, soft-focus Rowan, but her knowing, thinking, hard-eyed avatar, Rowan the survivor, the one who had to do everything on her own. The version of herself that, in the privacy of her mind, she knew was the real one."

Cory, the artist, is one of a rich set of characters that interact with Rowan. It is to Whitehouse's credit that the reader is able to sort through the characters—there are so many of them. Often, readers have to keep lists of characters to keep them all straight. Not in this case; they are very distinct. The setting is well-described and the suspense builds in ways that keeps the reader slightly off balance. I heard myself catch my breath at one point—one surprising turn of events.

The title, Keep You Close, is very clever, because the it skews your thinking about Rowan, both before and after you finish the book. What was being kept close? Who is being kept close? I also kept the thought in mind, "You can't go home again." Rowan should have stayed away from Oxford and from Marianne's home. Nothing good could possibly come from her digging through Marianne's (and her) past.

Lucie Whitehouse is the author of several thrillers. Many readers liked her previous book, Before We Met.

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