Written by Catherine Steadman — You’d think appearing in Downton Abbey would be enough to occupy actress Catherine Steadman’s time, but last year her debut crime novel, Something in the Water, was published. It demonstrated that she’s also an author with a few tricks up her sleeve.
Now she’s back with another standalone, and I’m happy to report that Mr Nobody is just an engaging as Steadman’s first book. No sign of second novel syndrome here, this author hits the ground running with a fast-paced couple of pages that set the precarious scene perfectly. We’re following the thought processes of an as-yet-unidentified car passenger, who is being driven at speed to an as-yet-undisclosed beach in England, in the hope of stopping somebody from doing… um… something. All very vague but oh, so intriguing.
It’s a neatly conceived opener, setting us up for what is about to prove an extremely bumpy ride, with plenty of detours to traverse before we reach the finale. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let’s set the scene.
On a deserted beach in Norfolk, a man is lying, dazed and confused. He’s wet, isn’t wearing any shoes and has no identification on him. How did he get there and who is he? The man can’t answer those questions, both figuratively and literally as he’s lost his memory and seems to have lost the power of speech too. The police take him to hospital, where medics tackle his hypothermia first, then begin to look at his mental state.
Which is where Dr Emma Lewis comes in. She’s a neuropsychiatrist and among the best in her field, so she is excited at the prospect of treating the mysterious man who the press have dubbed Mr Nobody. But there’s a downside – because Emma used to be someone else. After an incident 14 years ago, she and her family were given new identities and moved away from their home in Norfolk. Yes, she’s originally from a little town very close to where Mr N was found.
Coincidence? We crime fiction lovers know there’s no such thing. And when Mr N and Emma meet for the first time, he finally breaks his silence to mumble something. Emma can’t believe her ears. Did this mysterious patient really say her old name, Marni? It’s time for any self-respecting woman with a secret to beat a hasty retreat, but of course Emma does no such thing. Soon she is in too deep to break the ties with the man, now christened Matthew by hospital staff after a strange incident on a busy ward. But as she begins to unpick his story, it’s Emma’s life that starts to unravel instead.
There’s plenty to keep you guessing in this craftily plotted book. What is Emma running from, who is Matthew and what is he hiding in that befuddled brain of his? And why on earth did a sensible neuropsychiatrist agree to put herself through the mill like this? Steadman offers a wide range of fully rounded characters to love, loathe, cajole and despair of as her tale unfolds and you’re likely to be reading well after your usual bedtime.
Mr Nobody is a refreshingly original book, offering dramatic twists and turns and pulling you deep into the heart of the action. The setting plays its part too. As we know from Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, Norfolk is a top-notch place for crime to occur, and Steadman uses the sweeping and desolate seascapes to great effect. If I had any quibble, it would be to say that the ending seems a little rushed after all the careful build up. Nevertheless, Mr Nobody has provided an excellent start to my reading year.
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 4 Stars