It’s such a pleasure today to be joining Bookouture‘s Books-on-tour again, this time to share my review of What She Saw by Wendy Clarke: published on 1st May, available via Amazon for kindle and in paperback, and also on Apple Books, Kobo and Googleplay. My thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy, provided through netgalley.
At first glance, this might not look like a book that would usually leap to the top of my reading pile – and I think I might have slightly surprised the Bookouture team when I signed up so enthusiastically. But I’ve read and enjoyed Wendy’s work before – I reviewed Silent Night – A Christmas Story Collection in 2017 (review here), and knew how very well she could write. And if you read magazine short stories, you might well have come across her too – she’s one of their most accomplished and popular writers. But a thriller? How might that turn out?
She lied to her daughter to save her family.
Everyone knows Leona would do anything for her daughter Beth: she moved to Church Langdon to send Beth to the best school, worked hard to build a successful business to support them and found them the perfect little cottage to call home.
Leona and Beth hike together, shop together, share their hopes and fears with one another. People say they’re more like best friends than mother and daughter.
It’s the relationship every mother dreams of.
But their closeness means that Beth struggles to make friends. Her mother has kept her sheltered from the world. She’s more reliant on her mother’s love. More vulnerable.
When Beth finds an envelope hidden under the floorboards of their home, the contents make her heart stop. Everything she thought she knew about her mother is a lie. And she realises there is no one she can turn to for help.
What if you’ve been protected from strangers your whole life, but the one person you can’t trust is the person closest to home?
What She Saw is a gripping psychological thriller with an incredible twist that will make your jaw drop. If you love The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl or anything by B. A. Paris you’ll be consumed by this.
From its opening pages, I was totally enthralled by this book – a wonderful piece of scene-setting, springtime in the Lake District seen through Leona’s eyes and drawn in loving detail, an introduction to the book’s characters, and a feeling of total contentment. And then things suddenly change – a distressing incident in the village shop, an uncomfortable glimpse of the past, and that calm is totally shattered. And then we immerse ourselves in the day-to-day lives of Leona and her family – her relationship with her “husband” Scott, her daughter’s struggles at school and her means of escape – but always with a sense of unease as Leona’s state of mind becomes increasingly unstable. And then comes that twist, and a very clever layering of the past and present as the shadows and secrets of the past are uncovered.
The writing is quite wonderful – that sense of unease and discomfort is relentless and inescapable, but also totally irresistible. When I knew part of the story, I found myself anticipating what might happen next, and where the threat was coming from – only to find that I’d got things entirely wrong, and more than once. I finished this book in the early hours, totally unable to put it down until I’d read to the very end, pulse racing and totally gripped by the story. The pacing is quite perfect – that gentle start, a steady escalation full of clever twists and turns, and an ending every bit as explosive as I’d hoped for.
The characters are superb – and not just Leona herself. The portrayal of daughter Beth is wonderful – there are points in the book when you feel for her with a physical ache, and it’s one of the best pieces of writing about a troubled and vulnerable teen that I’ve read in a long time. The whole story is surprisingly hard-hitting, and all the better for being so unexpected – this is such clever writing. And another – of the many things – I really liked was the strong visual sense: the photography, Beth’s art with its recurring motifs, the powerful sense of place created by the vivid descriptions.
I can see attention being drawn to the “jaw-dropping twist”, but this book is so much more than that. And rather than Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, I’d like to make my own comparisons – Paula Daly is the obvious one with the Lakes setting and domestic detail, but this book also reminded me of the excitement I felt when reading the earlier books of Barbara Copperthwaite and Sheryl Browne.
But Wendy Clarke’s voice is very much her own, and it’s a voice I liked very much indeed – this story is thoroughly compelling and highly original. Very much recommended by me – this might quite possibly one of my books of the year.
About the author
Wendy Clarke started her career writing short fiction and serials for national women’s magazines. After having over three hundred short stories published, she progressed to writing novels. With a degree in psychology, and intrigued with how the human mind can affect behaviour, it was inevitable that she would eventually want to explore her darker side.
What She Saw is her debut psychological thriller, published by Bookouture, with a second coming out in August 2019.
In her previous life, Wendy has published three collections of short stories and has been a short story judge for the Chiltern Writers Group, Nottingham Writers Group and The Society of Women Writers and journalists.
Wendy lives with her husband, cat and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food.