I thoroughly enjoyed this psychological thriller and was swept along by the story and the mysteries within it. It starts with Alison, who we learn has witnessed a violent incident when she was in her early teens and which left her an orphan. The precise details of the incident emerge as the story progresses and form part of the mystery. The book blurb says that she was the only person to survive. Alison, whose name was originally Esme, lived with her aunt for a while afterwards. She changed her name and decided that she didn’t want to know what happened to her parents and siblings, nor who was responsible. Eventually she moved out of her aunt’s and set up her adult life in a particular way. But an event brings Alison back to her home village of Saltleigh, with boyfriend, Paul, and she starts to ask questions about, and piece together, what might have happened. Part of her own denial, suppression and amnesia mean that she is unsure what she actually saw and heard that night in the crooked house. She appears quite detached from it all and from relationships. The lives of the inhabitants of Saltleigh have moved on to some extent but the killings are still on everyone’s lips, and there is a sense of menace about the way they watch each other – and Alison.
What I found particularly enjoyable about this novel was the atmosphere the author creates. Alison has gaps in her memory and is ambivalent about knowing the truth, and the reader doesn’t know whether she is reliable. And this is the same for almost all the other characters. Everyone seems to have something to hide and a vested interest in stopping the truth coming out. Suspense is well maintained throughout mainly via the creepy atmosphere and plot questions. Furthermore, the author drops in subtle reveals and poses questions and then shifts the narrative to another part of the plot. All of this did keep me guessing but as it involves quite a bit of switching between time frames, it is a little disorientating at times.
I found Alison interesting and I wanted her to get the answers she sought – but was also fearful for her. As so many people were involved in the original crimes (the killing of Esme’s family) and so many people were part of their lives in the Saltleigh, what happened is like a vast jigsaw puzzle. Each time Alison put a piece in place, and thought it fitted, it changed the appearance of the picture. Throughout the novel I had ideas about what might have happened but for most of the book, it was wide open, and I loved this about it. I also found interesting how the village community had responded to the killing of Esme’s family, and to her return thirteen years later as ‘Alison’.
There was a lot of psychology in this book for me to get my teeth into. I adore stories where characters are trying to piece together ‘who’ they are and what the reality was of their parents’ lives. I found myself imagining what it must be like to lose your family in the way Esme had. We see a little of how it has affected Alison, and how she has set up her life along certain lines. I wondered if she was perhaps a little too well adjusted but don’t know how to gauge this – and it didn’t affect the story. If you like complex psychological thrillers, I highly recommend The Crooked House. I’ve not read anything by this author before but will definitely read others of hers.
Vicky Newham © 2015