Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
As an avid devotee of crime and thriller novels from Edgar Allan Poe, Conan Doyle to the P.D. James and Ruth Rendells of today, I am astonished to discover a new author writing in the genre who has written more than a dozen novels prior to The Heights. These are acclaimed, awarded and regarded as nail-biting and nightmarish.
The accolades are well deserved.
The Heights is in the first person by Ellen Saint, the mother of teenage Lucas and his younger sister, Freya. Ellen is married to Justin but was formerly in a relationship with Vic, who is Lucas’s father.
From the beginning, suspense is created by Ellen’s awareness of a new friend of Lucas’s – Kieran, who is from a troubled background and, she perceives, is menacing to her son’s bright future who in his final year at school and bound for university.
Louise Candlish has the skill to convert the insignificant or ordinary into cause for anxiety.
Kieran exerts an increasing influence on Lucas and other young adults around him. His attitude to her, even his red hair and acne, add to her concern.
Lucas, until Kieran’s arrival on the scene, was a model student achieving good results that could win him a place at Oxbridge. This goal comes under threat and Ellen spends most of her time agonising about the situation.
A series of dramas occur, then tragedy strikes the family.
Candlish employs a device when she intersperses a detached account of events, headed The Sunday Times Magazine December 2021. This is a useful, clever perspective but also raises questions as to its title ‘Killing Time’ and the date.
The plot’s foundation seriously solidifies into conveying the agonising pain of the bereaved parent. In this case, it becomes overwhelming because of the additional sense of injustice.
It is intensely gripping as Ellen and Vic take steps to banish the suffering they have endured since the loss of their son, Lucas.
Kieran is reported missing.
Two and a half years later, Ellen is shocked and has to admit their plans have failed. Unexpectedly, she sees that Kieran now lives in in a luxurious penthouse on the Thames, ‘The Heights’. London is a large city of millions, so it is amazing that she spots him from the coffee shop that happens to be opposite his penthouse. That area, in the Docks, is bristling with warehouse conversions, so perhaps it is not unsurprising that Ellen, as an interior designer, should be consulting there.
Probably the only minor flaw in the entire novel….
Ellen’s unrelieved hatred of Kieran continues to burden the family’s lives until, halfway through the book, Vic takes over the narrative. He provides a more rational and measured approach to the loss of his beloved son. He has not lost sight of moral aspect and acts accordingly. His is a difficult task. He attempts to both sympathise yet offer a more balanced outlook to Ellen.
His mantras, ‘never challenge when outrage is at its hottest’ and ‘collude to win’, serve him well.
Vic meets with Kieran who is changed in both appearance and name. The plot continues to twist and grip with unflagging interest.
Vic becomes very uneasy as Ellen’s emotional state is very precarious.
The building, bearing the novel’s title, is critical to the finale. Dramatic, surprising and strangely satisfying, clarity emerges. The relevance of the Sunday Times sections, realisation of Kieran’s true nature, the evaporation of Ellen’s obsessive phobias all occur without that hurried, slick resolution of many thrillers.
This makes it a book impossible to set aside. Its unrelenting buildup of suspense and portrayal of a disturbed and grieving mother, who goes to extraordinary lengths, is guaranteed to increase the pulse!
Louise Candlish is a brilliant thriller writer and reading this latest offering compels me to seek out more work by this talented author.
by Louise Candlish
Simon and Schuster
ISBN 978 17611 0050 5