E.V Adamson is the pseudonym of British writer Andrew Wilson, the bestseller author of four novels which feature Agatha Christie as a detective early in her career as a writer of popular detective fiction. I read the first two and thoroughly enjoyed them. So when I heard he was writing a psychological thriller under a different name, I was excited to get a hold of a copy from NetGalley. Already published in the UK, Five Strangers comes out in the U.S. on 19 October. It’s a book I highly recommend, coming on the heels of such female-led psychological thrillers like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. In fact, Five Strangers relies quite heavily–and effectively, in my opinion–on the kind of POV writing that made Paula Hawkins’ and Gillian Flynn’s novels so successful: the unreliable narrator.
Jen Hunter is on Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, waiting for her friend Rebecca (Bex) to arrive for a coffee date. It’s Valentine’s Day and couples are being all smoochy and loved up. Jen is not long out of a five-year relationship with Laurence. To say it ended badly is an understatement. To add to her woes, Jen was once the celebrated author of a popular series of confessional journalistic pieces in a major newspaper, until her boss discovered that she lied about how her parents died in an earlier piece. She was fired on the spot, and now Jen has no job, no Laurence, and nothing to look forward to in life. But at least she has Bex, right?
Things take a horrific and tragic turn on the Hill when Jen and four other people witness a man, Daniel, argue with his girlfriend, Vicky. He breaks a bottle of champagne and shoves it in the poor woman’s face. If that wasn’t violent enough, he then produces a knife and slashes her throat, leaving Vicky to bleed out on the ground. One of the witness, Jamie, attempts to save the girl and is injured in the process. But before the police arrive, Daniel slashes his own throat and dies before another witness, Ayesha, a doctor just out of medical training, can save him. Another witness, Steven, a Black teenager, runs off before he can give a statement to the police. The last witness is Julia Jones, the local Labour MP, is horrified but there’s nothing she can do to save the situation. Bex arrives just in time to help Jen, knowing that her friend is already in a fragile state of mind.
The one other mystery is the jogger who saw what happened but continued their run without lending assistance. The police urge for him or her to come forward. Jen’s journalistic instincts take hold. Urged by Bex and another close friend, her housemate Penelope, Jen wants to find out why Daniel killed Vicky and then himself, and also discover the identity of the unhelpful jogger. She starts getting tweets from a mysterious Twitter account that suggests that all is not what it appears to be. Bex knows that the more Jen delves into the murder suicide, the greater the chance that her friend will spiral into a breakdown she might not come out of.
Five Strangers is told from both Jen and Bex’s point of view, in alternating chapters. In ways similar to Gone Girl, we get both sides of the story–until the midway twist puts a completely different spin on everything we’ve read until then. Even the witnesses have secrets they’d prefer not to see the light of day. Jen interviews each of them in turn, and discovers allies and foes around every corner. But who is telling the truth? And who among them is hiding the deepest secret of all? I read this book at a feverish pace because I was desperate to find out.
Adamson/Wilson has written a compelling tale of murder, deceit, and the ultimate betrayal. It’s not the first book I’ve read this year in which childhood trauma and fears of abandonment have been behind the characters’ heinous actions, but it’s probably the best and hardest-hitting. While at times I struggled to find sympathy with Jen and Bex, I think the author wanted it that way. There is no black and white when it comes to Jen, Bex, Laurence, and the four witnesses, just many shades of grey.