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by Sarah J. Naughton
Sourcebooks Landmark, March 2018
353 pages
ISBN: 1492651249

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sarah Naughton, author of two young adult thrillers, has stepped up to adult ones, and does she ever offer some very chilling thrills in THE GIRLFRIEND. Taking her editor's advice, Naughton has capered around like Rumpelstiltskin gleefully tossing around twists.

The novel begins with three short chapters, each clearly from a different person, the third in another typeface: No names but all suggest violence, two ending with a screaming woman. Chapter four begins with the words, “Tuesday, November 8.” Thus THE GIRLFRIEND begins.

Mags Mackenzie, a tough corporate lawyer in Las Vegas, learns that Abe, her only brother back in London, is at death's door after falling thirty-six feet in a stairwell. The caller hints at suicide. When Mags gets to the London hospital, she meets her brother's girlfriend, Jody, sitting by her brother crying.

Turns out it is Jody who was the only witness, and she says Abe was depressed and probably threw himself off the balcony of his flat. The flat is in a deconsecrated Victorian church where social services house the lost, the abandoned, refugees and the mentally disturbed. Mags takes up residence in her brother's flat and begins to look into her brother's fall.

Mags is clearly a very good lawyer but no one should have to unravel such a tangled web of lies, fantasies and wrongheaded assumptions: just about a twist in every chapter as the days progress from November 8 through November 19th and on to New Years Eve. Some of the twists are frightening, some suggest the most terrible abuse and others are just weird. All are handled deftly.

Mags begins as a very unlikeable woman who has hardened herself and seems to care for little that does not affect her directly. The novel manages to turn her around, as she witnesses the suffering of others, especially Jody and another resident in the church, a pregnant Muslim woman and her husband, both refugees from Albania. She also begins to look less critically at Daniel, a man with whom she has a casual encounter after meeting him in the bar on her transatlantic flight to London.

I really enjoyed this well-made thriller, set in the spooky old church. I grew to love the characters and was sorry when the mystery of her brother's death is solved and the perp gets a pretty long prison sentence. But all is well that ends well with this charming cast of characters. I anticipate her next thriller, promised later this year.

§ Susan Hoover is a playwright, independent producer and retired college English teacher. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Reviewed by Susan Hoover, December 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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