Written by Chevy Stevens — One of my top five crime fiction books of 2013 was Too Dark to Sleep, which featured a police detective who was afraid of the dark. And it’s something similar with Always Watching, where the central character is Nadine Lavoie, a psychiatrist with claustrophobia. Nadine has consulted therapists, even undergone hypnotism, in a bid to learn the root of her problem, but still it persists and she is no nearer an answer.
Always Watching begins as Nadine is called to the side of a young woman who has tried to commit suicide. On the face of it, Heather has everything. She is rich and beautiful, with a devoted husband. But as Nadine probes deeper, she learns that Heather has twice before tried to kill herself, that she has recently suffered a miscarriage, and that she and her husband, Daniel, had found some solace as members of the River of Life Spiritual Centre.
It’s a name that turns Nadine’s blood to ice. As children, she and her brother were taken to live on a remote commune with their manic depressive mother. The longer she treats Heather, the more Nadine is plagued by flashbacks, snippets of long-suppressed memories of those childhood days at the River of Life that lead her to believe she was abused by the cult’s leader, the enigmatic Aaron Quinn. Could her time at the commune be the source of her claustrophobia? As an increasingly troubled Nadine decides to confront her past, she embarks upon a search for the truth that is destined to put her and her family into extreme danger – dragging the reader, kicking and screaming behind her.
This no straightforward woman-on-a-quest tale. Stevens has plenty more plotlines up her sleeve as the story progresses. Nadine has a drug addict daughter who is living on the streets, and by night, she searches for Lisa in the dark underbelly of Victoria, on Vancouver Island in Canada. By day Nadine works with her patients at St Adrian’s Hospital, including Heather, who appears to be improving under her care. And whatever time of day or night it is, Nadine has this strange feeling that she’s being followed; that someone is watching her every move…
Chevy Stevens is the author of two previous novels, Still Missing and Never Knowing, the former winning her the International Thriller Writers’ Award for best debut. Nadine featured in both of those books as the silent listener and it is a great idea to give her centre stage in a novel which explores her own demons.
This is a brilliantly conceived thriller and I found Always Watching a disturbing and engrossing read – the manipulative, all seeing nature of the River of Life cult is particularly well drawn. But for me, Nadine struck a jarring note. She is self-obsessed and bossy and gets herself into too many difficult situations without any backup. Surely an intelligent, professional woman (with claustrophobia) would organise some support before rushing into danger? That aside, it’s a book that will certainly appeal to fans of the tense psychological thriller.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars