One moment married couple Nicole and Tom Booth are living the good life, free from the cares of the world – wealthy, happy and living in a dream home. The next, Tom is dead and it’s no accident. This is murder and it’s the crime that propels English author Gilly Macmillan‘s eighth thriller, The Fall, a dark psychological drama that plays on the old adage ‘be careful what you wish for…’
A few years back things changed for the better for Nicole and Tom when they won the lottery – a whopping £10 million. They kept it to themselves and with no close family to worry about it was easy to pick up sticks and begin a new life in a new place. So they moved to the Lancaut Manor estate in Gloucestershire and built their dream home. Nicole had fond memories of the area and the local nature reserve she visited with her mum as a child. The couple converted a barn into a state of the art glass house, taking advantage of its views across the River Wye into Wales.
After six months living in luxury, Nicole returns from a trip to the local market one day and finds that Tom is nowhere to be seen. Yet the music is blaring in every room of the house. Looking out the window she sees him face down in the swimming pool. She runs to the garden and dives into the water but Tom is a big man and her efforts to pull him out are in vain. Finally, Nicole calls an ambulance and then runs to her neighbours for help.
Sasha and Olly Palmer live in the manor house through the woods and, apart from the housekeeper Kitty, who lives in the coach house, they are the only people for miles around. Sasha, a yoga teacher, is practising in the garden when she sees Nicole running up in distress. She comforts Nicole before stirring Olly into action. They leave Nicole in the capable hands of Kitty and rush to the house. Olly is grappling with Tom’s body then the emergency services arrive. Tom is dead with a nasty gash on the back of his head. Sasha and Ollie are sent back home where CID will come and take their statements.
Still under the impression that it was a tragic accident, CID detectives Hal Steen and Jen Walsh question Nicole. There are things that just don’t add up and why isn’t the CCTV at the glass barn working. A second cup left out suggests Tom had company shortly before he died. Who was it? The detectives find a contact in Tom’s broken telephone they’re interested in but Nicole has no idea who Sadie is.
Then the back story of the characters and the reasons they’ve wound up here begin to emerge. Five years earlier the manor house was owned by a woman called Anna Creed, a widow at a loss following the death of her husband. Kitty, her housekeeper, recommended Anna take up yoga and that led her to Sasha. Anna enjoyed yoga, it was the one stabilising factor in a life that seemed to be falling apart due to grief.
This mystery unfolds inch by inch. It’s a slow burn thriller and you will spend a lot of time getting to know the characters, their motivations and relationships. It’s a small ensemble and the story, like an iceberg, is 90 per cent hidden from view. There’s a surprise or two along the way and plenty of reveals. The plot occasionally and pleasingly offers up a surprise but we would have liked a higher tempo. As we discover the past and each person’s secrets, they all have something to hide and we are left to ponder whether that’s enough to kill for and which of them might be capable of murder.
As with her last novel, The Long Weekend, Macmillan loves the idea of a closed circle and this time there are fewer than a handful of characters. Thus The Fall sits well in that tradition of Golden Age crime fiction but with a modern take. There are clues and red herrings to underpin the reveals in the plot and a thread to the story which rounds out the scenario so that it’s more than a simple whodunnit. With such a small cast, all of whom are suspects, you need deep, intriguing and convincing backstories for each and Macmillan gets that. Without spoilers we can say the ending is more complex than you might think, which is satisfying, and in this case justice is achieved in a wickedly appropriate fashion.
While The Fall is a little drawn out in places, if you’re into the characters that won’t be an issue for you. The atmosphere is mostly tense and the plot is never less than intriguing. One for the beach, maybe.
Also see The Perfect Lie by Jo Spain.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars