Author: Frances Fyfield, 2006.
Genre: Psychological Thriller. Crime Fiction.
Other Details: Paperback. 372 pages.
The protagonist of this novel is Rachel Doe, a shy and lonely accountant who is drifting through her life. Then she meets Ivy Wiseman, who works as a life drawing model at an evening class Rachel attends. Ivy is Rachel's polar opposite: uninhibited and charismatic; a woman who has survived drug addiction, homelessness and the death of her daughter. Rachel develops an intense, platonic infatuation that is further enhanced when she meets Ivy's parents who run a ramshackle farm on the Kent coast. In Ivy's mother, Grace, she especially finds a substitute mother figure and they welcome her as a second daughter.
As Rachel becomes closer to the family she learns of Ivy's marriage to the ambitious, bullying Carl Schneider and of the drowning death of their daughter in the swan-filled lake near to the farm. Since their divorce Carl has become a judge and denies Ivy access to her surviving child. Rachel feels deeply the injustice of this and decides to bring about a reconciliation at least between the older Wisemans and their estranged grandson. When she makes contact with Carl she finds him charming and considerate and very different to the monster described by Ivy.
Although Rachel is unaware of it, someone has been sending threatening images via email to Carl. When a dead rat is delivered to his door, a washed-up police detective is assigned to investigate. This investigation continues in parallel to Rachel's story though eventually both narratives dove-tail.
This was the first book by Fyfield that I have read and did so on the glowing recommendation of a friend. Almost from the first page I could understand why as Fyfield did a masterful job throughout. Especially notable was the way in which she created a growing sense of tension and unease using small details and peripheral events, which indicate that something odd is going on.
It certainly stood out from the average thriller in terms of its complex characterisations. Rachel develops from a naive, inhibited woman moving through doubt and denial to discovering an inner strength and purpose. The supporting characters are well realised emerging as flawed, complex and always interesting. Fyfield also creates a strong sense of place in both her depiction of the urban sprawl of London and the isolated farm with the almost fairy-tale ambiance of the swans and the lake.
From start to finish I was caught up in this powerful story and found it effective on various levels.