Written by CL Taylor — Crime fiction is a huge and hugely popular genre, but do you ever sit back and think of what we’re actually enjoying as our evening’s entertainment? The thought might cross your mind as you sink deeply into The Fear by CL Taylor, with themes such as child grooming, stalking and paedophilia. It takes a skilled writer to handle such troubling topics so well, and still keep us entertained.
Louise Handsworth was 14 when she fell under the spell of her karate teacher, Mike Hughes. Unhappy at home and short of friends who would listen to her woes, Lou thinks she’s hit the jackpot when Mike takes an interest in her. He even whisks her away for a secret weekend in France – but then the dream turns sour and Lou begins to see Mike for what he really is…
Move on 18 years and Lou has created a new life for herself in London, although the repercussions of those teenage mistakes still affect her badly. She struggles to have any meaningful, long term relationships with men and is haunted by memories of Mike and what he did to her. Then her father dies and leaves her the family home back in Malvern. Fresh out of yet another disappointing relationship, Lou ups sticks and returns to the place where she grew up.
It’s a big mistake, and bad memories come rushing back. Then Lou spots Mike, out of prison now and working in a garden centre. But what’s that? He’s kissing a young girl who can barely have reached her teens? Lou wonders what she can do to stop history repeating itself, and her solution is an unusual one… Perhaps a little revenge is in the pipes.
Not content with one compelling storyline, Taylor introduces Wendy, a woman in her 50s who lives alone, with only her Springer Spaniel for company. She’s taking an unusual amount of interest in Lou’s life and uses a fake name and profile to befriend her on Facebook. What could be the reason for Wendy’s stalking behaviour? It will take you a while to find out, but once the cat is out of the bag there are no end of possibilities as to where this story is likely to go next.
The narrative thread bounces between the three lead female characters, with Lou’s present-day predicament topped and tailed by snippets from the diary she kept while her relationship with Mike was in full flow. These italicised passages are sometimes difficult to read, so raw are the emotions of the young and impressionable girl wielding the pen. In contrast, grown up Louise is world-weary, afraid to trust anyone and battling to keep things together. However, when the going gets tough, she may just surprise you.
While Chloe, Mike’s latest target, wears her heart on her sleeve as a typical marginalised 13-year-old girl, Wendy is a much tougher nut to crack. The early impressions of a middle-aged spinster content to walk her dog and do a bit of knitting are there to lull you into a false sense of security as Taylor trickily plays with perceptions like a stage magician.
Followers of this author’s work have come to expect moments when everything is turned on its head and The Fear is no exception. As one by one our three female leads take their turn in the spotlight, be careful to check what may be lurking in the shadows. This is an engrossing, disturbing read which at times has you crying in anguish for an innocence lost, at others cheering from the sidelines at what transpires. An excellent psychological thriller by an author on top form.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars