“You wrote my note! My suicide note! You want to kill me!”
Although the term ‘gaslighting’ has existed for decades, it is very popular at present to describe stories in which men manipulate the minds of women – and this clever suspense novel definitely fits the bill. Monica had an accident five years ago and is now in a constant state of neuropathic pain. She used to be a powerful actor’s agent but now, due to side effects from her medication, can barely remember anything of her old life. Her husband Dominic has seemingly been very supportive, putting up with all her vicious emotional outbursts; but when she finds a forgotten old suicide note, in clear handwriting she physically couldn’t have written, Monica starts to doubt everything, and everyone, around her.
And don’t forget to check out the reviews posted as part of Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.
“My Angry Friend has locked me inside my house, inside my bedroom, inside my bed, inside my body, inside my head, and hidden the key for the foreseeable future.”
For the first 100 or so pages, the only voice we hear is that of Monica, who narrates in the first person as she fights with her own body, which on particularly bad days she refers to as her ‘Angry Friend.’ After that, we occasionally also hear from her mild-mannered husband Dominic, her lovestruck physio Niall and Detective Inspector Geoff Marks, who investigated her original accident, though their stories are always told in the third person. As the narrative progresses we learn that Monica used to be a very successful actor’s agent who got where she was by being very hard and intolerant of weakness in others. Her husband is not especially successful financially and they have real money worries now. Monica learns that there is a new treatment that may finally alleviate her chronic pain, but her husband is against it – why? Is it because if she comes off her medication her memory will return? And what has he buried out in the garden? And what about the large insurance policy on her life?
“By the time you read this I will be dead. Do not grieve for me, for I am now without pain. Yours truly for ever, Monica.”
Dominic it turns out has many dark secrets – but is he the one who tried to kill his wife five years before? Or was it her client Larry or her friend Angelina? And what about Niall, an ex-actor who now makes his living as a physio and who is much too attached to Monica? He starts off as a needy friend and eventually starts to seem very creepy instead as we learn more about him.
The term ‘gaslighting’ comes of course from Patrick Hamilton’s popular 1938 play Gas Light (originally performed as ‘Angel Street’ in the USA), about a woman who fears she is going insane but who is in fact being manipulated by her husband. The play was turned into a couple of very good movies and since then of course there have been plenty of successful novels, plays as well as films and TV episodes about domestic malice in which nothing is what it seems. Think of Hitchcock’s Suspicion (taken from Frances Iles’ 1932 Before the Fact) and his later Vertigo or the 1955 film Les Diaboliques, both taken from stories by Boileau-Narcejac and which inspired a batch of movies written by Jimmy Sangster for Hammer (all of which I reviewed here). More recently it got used for Girl on the Train and so on, as well as by Steven Soderbergh for his recent movie, Side Effects.
This brilliant new thriller is the work of an author who may be more familiar to comedy and radio fans as ‘Nev Fountain’. By writing mainly in the first person he really works to his strengths from his earlier work for audio and indeed this is one case where, very unusually for me, I would strongly recommend getting the 12-hour audiobook version which is read by Nicola Bryant (who is the author’s real-life partner and inspired Monica and the story itself) and John Banks handling the men’s voices. I’m not usually one for audio books, but this is an exception and works extremely well.
Fountain has worked on several Doctor Who audio productions for Big Finish over the years and has, in my view, written some of their very best. Many reviewers are calling this novel Fountain’s debut as a novelist, but only under this variant new byline – as ‘Nev Fountain’ he previously published three Mervyn Stone mystery novels – for detailed and enthusiastic reviews of these, see what the Puzzle Doctor has to say over at his blog In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel by clicking here. You can read Fountain’s old blog here: http://nevfountain.wordpress.com, where you can also read his short Mervyn Stone mystery, The Pen is Mightier than the Nerd, which was originally published on Twitter in handy 140-character bytes.
This is in every sense a superior suspense novel, though keep in mind, very much for adults given the situations and especially the strong language. So whether in the print edition (now available in paperback), as an ebook or in its audio equivalent, you really should get this. The main character is incredibly compelling and always credible – and the great twist at the end comes after a succession of clever reversals. A masterful thriller with great characters with that rarest of twin commodities: intelligence and heart. Not to be missed.