A Man Downstairs by Nicole Lundrigan

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A Man Downstairs by Nicole Lundrigan front cover

A Man Downstairs is the ninth book written by the acclaimed Canadian author Nicole Lundrigan. It’s a taut psychological thriller that brings to mind the expression that you can never go home again.

When her father Gil has a massive stroke, Molly Wynters returns to the town where she grew up so that she can support him. A lot has changed for Molly since she left Aymes. She is now a certified therapist who plans to work remotely while she is in Aymes. She is also a divorcee with a teenage son, Alex. Molly is about to discover if things have changed in Aymes.

Aymes is the fictional North American small town setting of A Man Downstairs. As with all small towns, everyone knows everything about Molly. They all remember that at age three she witnessed her mother’s murder. You will feel overwhelming pity for the traumatised three-year-old yet her testimony in court managed to tie a teenager to the murder of Edie Wynters. The teen ended up being sent to prison for the murder but was released when his conviction was overturned three years later. These events made Molly a focus of attention in Aymes. When she left Aymes, it was a relief to no longer be known as the child who witnessed her mother’s murder.

Gil has always adored Molly. When she was a child, he would tell her stories to keep her mother’s memory alive. Returning home triggers Molly’s memories. She remembers her childhood as one full of love and wants to help out in the community. Molly becomes a voluntary therapist for the town helpline. While working on the helpline, she begins to receive threatening calls that lead her to question her memories of the day her mother died. Did she identify the wrong person? Molly can’t seek clarification from Gil as his stroke has left him unable to communicate. To further complicate matters, Alex is researching his grandmother’s murder for his law class.

It’s not surprising that her memories are questionable as Molly was so young at the time. Fortunately, we also have the perspective of her father, Gil. The chapters from Gil’s perspective are set in the past. They describe how he met Edie Paltry, the early years of their marriage and details about his business partnership as a pharmacist. Paltry is an interesting choice of a last name for Edie. She lived with her widowed mother in a rundown house in the poor part of Aymes prior to her marriage to Gil. Edie and Gil seem like an unlikely couple, yet Gil’s love for Edie is immense. At times, his love appears somewhat obsessive.

There is also a third perspective included in the book, from someone that we only know as Him. It is clear that he is a student at the high school where Edie works in the cafeteria but we do not know his actual identity. He is not a reliable narrator and seems to fantasise a great deal. The true nature of his relationship with Edie is unclear. He will strike you as a creepy stalker. The chapters focused on this mystery student are easy to identify as they are labelled Him and printed in a different font.

As in real life, all of these characters are flawed in different ways. Like many small towns in the past, it is clear that in Aymes there was a cover-up or look the other way approach to mental health and addiction issues. Secrets were buried deep. The more you learn about the folk in Aymes, the more suspects you’ll add to your list. Lundrigan is very adept at misdirecting readers with numerous red herrings scattered throughout the story

You will know the identity of Him and what role, if any, he played in the murder of Edie by the end. Once Lundrigan shifts from establishing the characters to revelations about the past, the book becomes more action packed. You will not be able to put it down at this point. Lundrigan smoothly manages to pull events from the past into a memorable present day ending. The Epilogue will leave you feeling shocked to your core. Perhaps there is some truth in the expression about never going home again.

For another crime writer that uses small town settings with a focus on family dynamics, see Everyone Here is Lying by Shari Lapena.


CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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