Written by CL Taylor — Stranger danger is instilled into every child these days, but adults? We don’t need to be told… or do we? Jo Blackmore is in a rush, late to collect her daughter, Elise, from nursery. So when a stranger asks for a lift, she hesitates. Then good manners kick in and Jo acquiesces. Quickly, she wishes she’d just driven off. Because the strange female passenger knows Jo’s name, the name of her husband (Max) and she even has a glove belonging to little Elise.
The woman, who gives her name as Paula, eventually departs, after issuing a vague threat, which Jo takes seriously. But why doesn’t her husband take it seriously as well?
Agoraphobic and prone to anxiety of epic proportions, Jo is a woman with myriad hang-ups. Her daughter isn’t allowed to go to the park, zoo or the soft play area, in fact Elise spends much of her time at home when she isn’t at nursery. And even food shopping is a problem for Jo, who has lost all confidence after a panic attack in the corner shop when she thought someone was ‘looking at her’.
You’d think Max, an investigative journalist, would be more supportive, but this latest drama seems to be the final straw for him. In the past, the couple were brought closer together by the death of their premature baby son, but lately Jo’s illness appears to be getting more extreme and it is pushing them apart. For a big chunk of this story, you’ll probably tend to agree with Max. Jo is obviously ill, but her histrionics will begin to get on your nerves.
But it is worthwhile staying for the long haul. This is CL Taylor, after all – an author who plays with the emotions like an angler toys with a trout. As mishap after mishap befalls Jo, she finds herself under investigation by both the police and social services. There comes a point when you’ll just want to get inside those pages and give her a bloody good shake. But perhaps there is more to this dithering dishrag than we at first thought?
The best advice is to take nothing at face value and just hang on for dear life as this roller coaster of a book takes you on a most unexpected journey. The main narrative is interspersed with the italicised musings of Jo’s tormentor. It appears she has been picked as the easy target, rather than Max, who has demons of his own to contend with. At the centre of this emotional tug of war is little Elise, an unwitting pawn in a deadly game.
Dysfunctional families are meat and drink to this author and the Blackmores have it in spades. Jo’s mother also has a secret to hide, offering a hint of intrigue which provides added spice to plot already hotter than chicken madras. Crime fiction is a genre heavily populated with series, so it is good to know that everything will be sorted out at the end of this standalone novel.
When it comes, the ending is as dramatic and overblown as its setting. By now the action has moved from Bristol to the east coast of Ireland, where it appears there are further untold stories to be unearthed. Jo of Ireland is a completely different prospect to Jo of Bristol. A surprising sea-change, considering the pressure she is under but one that will have you cheering from the sidelines.
An absorbing read from an author who consistently offers up unpredictable dramas in off-kilter settings. Domestic noir fans should add The Escape to their to be read list immediately.
The author’s previous books have been excellent. Click here to discover more.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars