TANGERINE by Christine Mangan
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: an outstanding debut in the vein of Patricia Highsmith
Every so often, a debut crime novel comes along that is so technically sound and vividly imagined, you can hardly believe the author really has never published a book before. TANGERINE by Christine Mangan (on sale March 27th, 2018) is one such read. This impeccably delivered suspense novel sets a plot worthy of Patricia Highsmith against the backdrop of dazzling, almost larger-than-life 1950’s Morocco. Maddening, gripping, enchanting—I’m at risk of running out of adjectives to describe just how wholly impressive this debut is. Come for TANGERINE’s stunning package and superb early praise; stay for its razor-sharp portrayal of obsession and manipulation, set against cinematic scenery. It’s no surprise that film rights for this novel have already been picked up by George Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures—TANGERINE is built for the big screen, from its grand locale to its hypnotic suspense. In a story humming with interpersonal tension and simmering with the heat and haze of Morocco, Mangan weaves an outstanding and transportive thriller that will delight fans of Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn, and Alfred Hitchcock; yes, really, this book is that good. Frankly, if Christine Mangan isn’t a rising literary star, I just don’t know who is.
The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.
But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.
I’ll be the first to admit: I’m probably not a likely candidate to love a book set in 1950’s Morocco—my taste simply skews Nordic and modern. So imagine my surprise when I found myself utterly transported in TANGERINE. Mangan’s portrayal of Morocco leaps off the page: readers walk through the medina, taste the mint tea, and experience the rich culture - and sweltering heat - of Tangier alongside Alice and Lucy. Mangan’s respect for all that makes Morocco Morocco seeps from every page of her stunning debut. TANGERINE is alive with the energy and complexity of this locale and this time period. As a reader who loves character-driven suspense, what is particularly fascinating is the unique lens through which each woman central to the story experiences this city. Seen through Lucy’s eyes, Tangier is vibrant and full of life - a playground to explore in pursuit of personal gain. For demure Alice, it’s something to be feared - she quite literally sequesters herself away from the city, blocking out every bit of its noise and light from her home. Mangan explores the glamour, grandeur, danger, and societal complexity of Morocco through the experiences of these two foreigners to fantastic effect.
Speaking of the differing experiences of these two women—Mangan’s rich character development breathes life into every page of her debut. TANGERINE is told in chapters alternately narrated by Alice and Lucy, and Mangan’s expert navigation of these distinct voices makes for a compelling and immersive read. Alice and Lucy seem, in many ways, to be negatives of one another: Alice, the frail, innocent woman marked by past tragedy, unable to let go of long-held anxieties and fears; Lucy, the ambitious and resourceful former friend who won’t stop until she gets exactly what she wants. This pairing provides a study in contrast, and Mangan positions them in a kind of twisted dance, with Lucy circling Alice slowly but surely until she gets her just where she wants her. TANGERINE is a web of subtle manipulations wrapped up in the shiny, glamorous package of its cinematic backdrop—a pairing as gripping as it is intelligent.
TANGERINE will no doubt work perfectly for literary fiction readers who come to the book for its vivid writing and transportive plotting, but what will make this book work for crime fiction readers is the quietly twisted scheme at its core. Reading TANGERINE is a bit like watching a spider lure its prey slowly into its web—the spider here being Lucy, and its prey being the seemingly helpless Alice. As a result of a tragedy endured during college, Alice now finds herself with a few crucial doubts about her own credibility—and with major suspicions that Lucy might have been involved in this past tragedy, too. With maddening precision, Lucy now manipulates Alice and insinuates herself back into Alice’s life. The reader can see the web closing in around Alice, but there’s nothing we can do to help her—and to make matters worse, Alice now finds herself unable to trust even her own understanding of what her former friend might be doing to her. Alice’s fragility is contrasted with Lucy’s resilience to disturbing end; Alice’s lack of agency in her own life feeds right into Lucy’s schemes. The bond between these two women is unshakable, forged through years of friendship gone very wrong. Alice knows her friend well enough to see through Lucy’s plotting, but is so undermined by her own past traumas that she might never be able to put this knowledge to use. And meanwhile, Lucy carries on, scheming and manipulating Alice’s life to fit her own designs. It’s chilling, infuriating, and gripping to watch.
A review of TANGERINE would not be complete without a mention of this book’s sick and brilliant ending. Without spoiling anything, Mangan has crafted a finale that beautifully rounds out the futility of Alice’s plight with a neat, tidy, and wholly unjust conclusion to her spectacular debut. This might be a contentious way for TANGERINE to end - it won’t deliver anything near to a happy ending - but at the same time, it’s the only ending befitting this clever and disturbing story.
TANGERINE will thrill readers looking to be transported and enveloped in a suspense novel that is as smartly constructed as it is vividly imagined. This is not a gory or in-your-face-twisted read; instead, TANGERINE places its focus on the rich development of its characters, and the precise plotting of the web of manipulations that slowly but surely ensnares one of them. Mangan has written a lush, vibrant, and unputdownable psychological suspense story that recalls the work of Patricia Highsmith in a voice all her own.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Ecco (March 27, 2018)
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