Written by Samantha Hayes — There has been a veritable avalanche of domestic noir recently – family-based psychological crime novels – and in such a crowded market, it can be difficult for a book to stand out. Samantha Hayes is no newcomer – she has written seven books previously, all of them well received. So what is her unique selling point? Her emphasis is on real life stories, current issues which you can relate to and which make you ask: ‘What if this happened to me or my family?’
Gina and Rick Forrester seem to have an ideal life in North London. There’s not much money, but they are a happy family with two bright children and plenty of love between them. Even when their teenage son dies in a hit-and-run accident, they pull together and comfort each other through their grief. One day during the run-up to Christmas, Rick goes out to buy a newspaper and never comes back. This time the tragedy threatens to engulf the remaining family unit. Gina feels isolated, persists in her belief that her husband would never run away, but hopes against hope that he is not dead and that this was all some terrible mistake. Her daughter Hannah is moody, hateful and seems to be on the brink of giving up her university studies.
Four months after Rick’s disappearance, Gina receives a phone call from the owner of a hotel in the Cotswolds, claiming that her husband had made a booking there for a luxurious spa week just before his disappearance. Unsure what to think of this revelation, half-hoping that it will provide more clues about her husband’s state of mind, Gina convinces her daughter to join her on this mini-break. The Fox Court Hotel is beautiful, but something about it and its owner, the glamorous Susan Fox, makes both Gina and Hannah deeply uncomfortable. Unwilling to reveal too much about their family tragedy, they nevertheless find themselves sucked into a dangerous situation, with no idea who the enemy might be.
The story unfolds through chapters alternating between Gina and Hannah’s points of view. This device has become very popular in recent crime fiction, but does not add much to the story in this case. Hannah’s narrative unintentionally gives away rather too many of the twists. I had a strong suspicion of how things would turn out, although there were still one or two plot points which I hadn’t fully worked out.
The claustrophobic atmosphere of the country hotel is nicely done, but the story sags a little in the middle. There are only so many nice dinners, spa treatments and sauna sessions that the protagonists can partake of, without it starting to feel repetitive.
Gina makes for a sympathetic, though slightly naive and deluded central character. She is not an unreliable narrator as such, but from her descriptions of certain events or interactions between herself and her husband, you will soon realise that not everything was quite as problem-free as she tells herself. Her daughter is a good foil to Gina’s tendency to over-romanticise things, and you can’t help wishing that the two of them could sit down for a proper, heartfelt talk instead of nursing their sorrows and grievances in isolation.
Although In Too Deep doesn’t rise high above the many other family secrets thrillers out there, it is nevertheless an entertaining way to spend a day or two. I always admire an author who doesn’t turn to writing a series using the same characters over and over again, and produces distinct standalones. If you enjoyed The Missing by CL Taylor, Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes or the psychological dramas of Mary Kubica, there’s a good chance you’re going to enjoy this book.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars