Written by BA Paris — Readers just can’t seem to get enough of psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators. In her second novel, BA Paris sticks to the domestic noir formula which accounted for the huge success of her debut Behind Closed Doors.
It all starts innocently enough on the last day of the summer term, somewhere in a typical mid-sized English market town. Schoolteacher Cass Anderson is out celebrating with her colleagues, but leaves early. As she prepares to drive home in a heavy storm, she takes a short cut through the woods and sees a woman in a car on the side of the road. She briefly considers stopping to help the woman, but the weather and the fear of a potential set-up make her reconsider. However, when she hears the next day that the woman has been found murdered, and that she had fleetingly met her before, guilt overwhelms her. Could she have saved Jane if she had stopped that night?
As she becomes plagued by silent calls and surly neighbours who seem to be spying on her, she begins to wonder if someone else is blaming her for Jane’s death. Worst of all, she is no longer sure she can trust her own senses or her memory, as she starts making silly mistakes and having bouts of forgetfulness. Could she be following in her mother’s footsteps, with early-onset Alzheimer’s?
It may say more about my suspicious mind rather than any flaws in the plotting, that I guessed quite early on what was happening, although not necessarily the reasons behind it. However, the similarities with the Ingrid Berman character in the 1944 film Gaslight, which gave us the expression gaslighting, were too pronounced to not give the game away. There is also a rather clunky plot device through which Cass acquires a certain mobile phone and reads messages which cast her experiences over the past few weeks in a whole new light. However, it rather defies belief that anybody who had gone into such detailed planning of malice and evil intent would be careless about leaving undeleted messages on their phone. At the very least, they would have used a passcode to prevent easy access. Equally implausible was Cass’ far too rapid descent into hysterical despair. With the exception of Cass, the other characters did not seem particularly memorable or well-rounded.
The Breakdown is a pleasant and occasionally thrilling way to pass a few hours, an entertaining enough read. There are many things to like about the book: a good sense of location with the remote house on the edge of the woods, an increasingly sinister atmosphere, a few puzzling moments. Overall, it is a bit like fast food: delicious enough while eating, but not particularly nourishing or leaving a lasting memory. With so many psychological thrillers competing for space on the shelf, a book needs to have something a little extra to stand out.
CFL Rating: 2 Stars