Written by Will Thwaite — The Valley is the debut novel of London headhunter Will Thwaite, and was longlisted for this year’s Bath Novel Award. It’s an international prize which carries some weight and is aimed at aspiring and self-published authors, so a longlisting is some achievement.
Told in the first person, the novel introduces us to John Flood, the prime suspect in the disappearance and possible killing of Lucy Grainger, wife of his old friend and business associate Max. The book opens with John being grilled by the police – he was the last person to see her alive. With no body and nothing concrete to charge him with, John is eventually released, but it’s clear that he’s still very much on their radar. With the police still monitoring him, John struggles to cope, fearful that the moment he slips up in any way, he’ll be back in the cells charged with a murder he didn’t commit and with no way to prove otherwise.
The Valley of the title is actually a suburban district of South West London, but it is more of a state of mind than a geographical location. Valley residents have their own aspirations and desires, and amid the tastefully redecorated townhouses there is a great sense of anxious awareness of how different families are prospering. The book explores how the ‘Valley Folk’ differ from person to person, and what they are prepared to do in order to achieve their dreams. Max and John have been friends since university. However, their lives have taken very different paths. The Valley will put their friendship on the line, and John will be forced to make some very difficult decisions.
In his narrative John takes us back to his university days when he first met Max. Through John’s perspective we see how their friendship develops laying the foundations for the situation John now finds himself in. He’s a man who has never asked too many questions, accepts things at face value, and trusts a little too naively when he’s made an offer that seems too good to be true. As a result, he’s forced to face up to some harsh and sometimes frightening realities. Is his friend Max all he appears to be?
Back in the present, Lucy’s disappearance is more complex than the robbery/abduction it first appeared to be, and John realises the only way to clear himself is to try and find out what’s going on. Other people have started disappearing and the can of worms he’s opened could potentially get him killed. The deeper John goes, the more terrifying it gets. By the end he doesn’t know who he can trust. This is an example of the psychological thriller at its best. In many respects it has an old fashioned style to it, albeit in a modern setting. The writing draws you in and lets your mind run wild with theories about what might have happened as the actual story unfolds before you. It’s full of twists and turns, which culminate in a dramatic finale.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars