I Know You by Claire McGowan

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I Know You by Claire McGowan front cover

The striking cover, showing the fractured image of a woman, gives us a clue to Northern Ireland author Claire McGowan‘s latest psychological thriller, I Know You. Rachel is someone who keeps herself out of the spotlight. She lives a quiet life, volunteering at a Lake District dog rescue and is in a relationship with Alex, a tree surgeon in the throes of divorce from his wife, Anna.

So far, so pretty run of the mill. But early one morning, when Rachel is in the woods near her home walking her dog, Brandy, she comes across a dead body. And what she does next raises our alarm bells. Or rather, it’s what she DOESN’T do next. She doesn’t check on the body or call the police; instead, Rachel turns and runs away.

Yes, as that cover hints, Rachel is a woman with a past. And another name. And a previous (eventually quashed) conviction for multiple murder. Once again, she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suddenly, her panicked departure from a crime scene begins to make more sense.

We learn that Rachel was previously known as Casey Adams, and as a 19-year-old she’d left the UK for a six-month contract as a nanny to the two children of an actress and her producer husband. In LA, no less. Living the dream.

But any thoughts of being discovered and becoming a big movie star, lounging by the pool or shopping on Rodeo Drive soon dissolve into the Los Angeles smog as Casey begins work with the Safran family. It’s no walk in the park – husband David is always working, wife Abby is neurotic and unpredictable, five-year-old Madison is a child with issues and baby Carson seems to cry most of the time. Casey is expected to cook, act as chauffeur to the children and do housekeeping in addition to her nannying tasks. She’s exhausted, lonely and feels out of her depth. But what happened to bring her to a cell on death row, accused of three murders?

To find out, we skip between Casey and Rachel’s unfolding dramas, which is a little bit discombobulating, particularly as I was struggling to actually sympathise with the central character. Casey is very young, naive and self-centred, while Rachel is not so naive these days, but her plight, and how she handles it, grates.

Because things have gone from bad to worse for her. The dead woman in the woods is none other than Alex’s wife Anna, and by adding in the fact that she left the scene and didn’t report the discovery, Rachel is now the prime suspect in Anna’s death. They’d had a very public, stand up row not long before Anna’s death – with the now dead woman shouting for Rachel to ‘stay away from him’. It seems she has nowhere to turn, no one to believe her story. But the killer is still out there…

Irish author Claire McGowan has made a name for herself by creating unpredictable psychological thrillers, and her popular series featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire (read our review of A Savage Hunger here). Somehow though, with I Know You it feels as if she’s taken her foot off the gas a wee bit. I had one of the storylines sorted out in my head pretty quickly, while the other took a little longer to piece together, but through it all I didn’t really find myself caring too much about what would happen to Casey/Rachel – and the final couple of chapters felt rushed. All that being said, if you’re a fan of the likes of Erin Kelly, Louise Candlish or Mark Edwards, this is a book that could prove an entertaining companion as the nights draw in.

To find out a little more about the author, read our 2012 interview with Claire McGowan here.

Thomas & Mercer

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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