I’m delighted today to share my review of Façade by Helen Matthews, published by Darkstroke/Crooked Cat in September 2020 and now available for kindle (free to read via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback. My thanks to the author for providing an e-copy.
It’s taken me rather longer than I intended to read my first book from Helen, who I “met” through the WriteReadReview group on Facebook. While psychological suspense isn’t often my first choice of reading, I’d been really intrigued by her first two books – After Leaving The Village and Lies Behind The Ruin – but just couldn’t fit them into my reading list. And when Façade was released and a blog tour arranged, again I just couldn’t manage the reading – but I added the book to my list for one of those windows that sometimes open up. Helen tells me that she always aims to make her novels multi-layered for book club discussion so that, as well as the plot twists and central mystery, there are themes that resonate with readers – which made me want to read it more than I already did.
Let’s take a closer look….
A drowned child. Estranged sisters. A once-perfect home.
Silence echoes louder than truth.
When seventeen-year-old Rachel’s baby brother drowns and her older sister, Imogen, escapes to live abroad with Simon, her musician boyfriend, Rachel must face the family’s grief and disintegration alone.
Twenty years later, Rachel is a successful businesswoman, with a daughter of her own, supporting her parents and their elegant Georgian home, The Old Rectory, that shackles them to the past.
Simon’s sudden death in Ibiza brings Imogen back, impoverished and resentful. Her family owes her, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim what she believes is rightly hers.
The rift between the sisters seems permanent. While Imogen has lived a nomadic life, filled with intrigue, in Spain and Tunisia, Rachel’s has appeared stable and successful but, behind the veneer, cracks are appearing. Now, she is vulnerable.
As the wall of silence and secrecy crumbles, danger stalks Rachel’s family. She must re-examine her baby brother’s death, find out what happened in Tunisia, and fight to hold onto everything she’s achieved – or risk losing it all.
Façade is a gripping tale of loss, guilt and danger.
I’ve never really felt it necessary to like a book’s main characters to enjoy a book, but I’ll admit I’ve rarely come across one when I’ve disliked almost all of them with such intensity. There were perhaps glimmerings of sympathy for Rachel – driven and focused, sacrificing much of her own happiness to provide support for her struggling parents as they cling to the crumbling family home – but then something she said or did would set my teeth on edge and I just wasn’t in her corner any more. But as for her sister Imogen – well, there were certainly no redeeming features there, supremely selfish and driven by jealousy and the irresistible urge to get even, casting aside or crushing anyone or anything that gets in her way. But what a thoroughly compelling, fascinating and well drawn character she is – her actions throughout had me entirely gripped, as she relentlessly pursued her goals.
But this is so much more than a story about a good sister (well, fairly good…) and a bad sister – their characters are quite gloriously complex, but although they’re maybe the main focus there’s a very clever layering of past and present secrets, and a supporting cast every bit as well handled as Rachel and Imogen. I very much liked that layering, the wall of silence, broken through deliciously slowly as the timeline moves between the present day, back into the childhood years and the time the family spent in Tunisia, through Imogen’s life in Ibiza – beautifully done, with small revelations and increasing levels of detail allowing the truth to emerge.
The relationships are so well drawn – the fractured one between the sisters, but also Imogen’s progression through others she pursues, uses and discards, and the family dynamics between Rachel and both her own immediate family and with her parents. The book’s sense of place is excellent – the overseas locations, the London locations (particularly Little Venice), the remoteness of the Old Rectory and the commuter town of Ferngate on the Hampshire/Surrey border. And I have to say how very much I loved the book’s ending – circling back to the book’s striking opening, beautifully understated, nicely open to interpretation and thoroughly shocking and unsettling.
If you like your reading fitted neatly into a box, this book might be something of a conundrum – it’s not a fast-paced thriller, and although there are plenty of moments that make you gasp or shift to the edge of your seat it doesn’t rely on a single jaw-dropping twist, more a series of small changes of perspective. Psychological suspense certainly sums it up, but there are strong elements of domestic noir and family drama too – all I can really tell you is how very much I enjoyed it, and I’ll certainly be reading more books from this very talented author.
About the author
Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her first novel, suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was published by Darkstroke in September 2020.
Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.
She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.