THE OLD YOU by Louise Voss
Orenda Books; 5/15/18 (UK) & 1/1/19 (US)
CBTB Rating: 3.5/5
The Verdict: page-turning, subtle suspense
Show me a psychological suspense novel called “Hitchcockian” and “modern domestic noir” and it’s pretty much a given that this book is something I’ve got to check out. Louise Voss’ newest release THE OLD YOU, then, promised to tick all the boxes I look for in a story of psychological suspense: rich character development, Hitchcockian undertones, and a healthy dose of hidden interpersonal secrets. Voss has written a page-turning story that keeps the reader constantly wrong-footed, unraveling deceit after deceit in a relationship over the book’s 300-odd pages. While I had hoped for a bit more darkness and tension in THE OLD YOU, this book is an undeniable binge-read—and it’s one that will work quite well for readers looking for lighter, more subtle suspense to add to their summer reading list. If you’re in the market for blow-your-mind twists, this book won’t be the right choice for you; if, instead, you’re willing to go along for the ride as author Voss draws you into a marriage with many, many secrets to hide, THE OLD YOU will be a strong contender for a summer weekend binge-read.
Someone’s mind is playing tricks . . . but whose? Lynn Waites gave up the job she loved when she married Ed, the love of her life, but it was worth it for the happy years they enjoyed together. Now, 10 years on, Ed has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and things start to happen; things more sinister than missing keys and lost words. As some memories are forgotten, other, long buried, begin to surface . . . and Lynn’s perfect world begins to crumble. But is it Ed’s mind playing tricks, or hers?
What is it about stories centered around memory loss that make for such great crime fiction reading material? There’s the obvious: memory loss is an instant means of creating intrigue surrounding a crime’s commission. But, let’s be honest, books that rely too heavily on a character’s loss of memory can occasionally feel a bit contrived or just too convenient. Not so in Voss’ THE OLD YOU. Rather than a story that hinges upon a protagonist’s lost time, Voss uses her crime novel to explore the tragic impact of dementia on a marriage with sensitivity and heart—and a healthy dose of intrigue, too. In THE OLD YOU, readers are introduced to Lynn and Ed: a couple whose loving marriage begins to change as the pair deals with the shattering diagnosis of Ed’s early-onset dementia. As Lynn watches the man she loves - his personality, his habits, even his language - begin to slip away, she becomes increasingly disturbed as a new side of Ed seems to take his place. Gone is her loving, affectionate husband—in his place is someone moody and prone to violent outbursts. What truths about her husband is his illness revealing to her for the first time? Are these outbursts simply the result of his rapidly-developing dementia, or was there always a dark side to her husband lurking behind his charming and charismatic exterior? Voss uses Ed’s illness to drive the major questions of the story; his dementia and ensuing memory loss aren’t tools to blind readers to the truth of a mystery, but rather a vehicle through which long-hidden truths about Ed himself become revealed to both Lynn and the reader. This is an incredibly effective driving force behind the story - and it’s one that takes a skilled storyteller like Voss to pull off with such authenticity. Though a fictionalized (and, naturally, a bit dramatized) account of dementia, THE OLD YOU manages to effectively portray the true tragedy of this disease. Readers will find themselves emotionally invested in the unthinkable challenges Lynn finds herself facing… and will be even more affected by the story’s outcome for this investment.
THE OLD YOU isn’t a story of major plot twists, but that doesn’t mean it’s without reveals and revelations all its own. It’s very difficult to discuss this element of the story without spoiling anything, but let me just say this: at a certain point in the novel, the story splits into a dual timeline—and it was much to my surprise that I found myself ultimately more invested in the story’s past timeline than in its present. While the story’s present timeline is certainly engaging, the revelations readers are privy to in the story’s past add a whole new - and highly entertaining - dimension to the book. Where the “present” timeline is much more focused on the inner workings of Lynn and Ed’s relationship, and the changes that relationship undergoes as Ed’s diagnosis progresses, the “past” timeline serves up a welcome measure of tension and darkness that, for me, was lacking in the story’s present. The combination is effective; as soon as the story’s “past” timeline kicked in, I found myself genuinely hooked on the promise of discovering how these two timelines would ultimately intersect. As an added bonus, the story’s dual timeline serves to deepen the reader’s understanding of Lynn - a compelling female lead who is refreshingly free of genre stereotypes. The development of Lynn’s backstory deepens not only the reader’s investment in her plight, but contributes a welcome complexity to the story’s over-arching trajectory. Readers will be hooked on unraveling the secrets of Lynn’s past as much they will be on piecing together the complexities of the story’s central mystery.
Despite its positioning as domestic suspense, the reading experience of THE OLD YOU doesn’t immediately present itself to the reader as such; readers looking for suspense and tension will need to be patient and allow the story a bit of time to unfold before its real intrigue kicks in. To that end, it’s important for CBTB readers to note that this book is a much lighter brand of suspense than many of its peer suspense novels recommended here. THE OLD YOU will be best appreciated by readers who wish to spend time in the interpersonal: the development of relationships, and the betrayals they can contain, take center stage here. Voss’ writing shines most when she is exploring the emotional complexities of life for her characters. Whether through the progression of Ed’s illness or the revelations made about Lynn’s past, the real potency of this story comes in its emotional undercurrents. It is therefore important to go into this book with the right expectations; THE OLD YOU will be best appreciated by the reader who has patience with their domestic suspense, and who actually prefers the layer-by-layer approach to unraveling a crime over the in-your-face twist. There’s no dramatic opening or explosive plot twist here, but readers keen to unpack the complexities of Lynn and Ed’s relationship will find much to dig into in Voss’ resonant and moving portrait of a marriage in crisis.
Of course, even the subtle suspense of THE OLD YOU must come to a conclusion. Unfortunately, I did predict the outcome of this book very early on - and, unfortunately, my reading experience was dampened a bit by my predictions being proved so clearly correct. That was perhaps the piece of this story I found most challenging: there is so much good in this book, particularly surrounding Voss’ strong character development, yet the story’s reveals (when they did come) were unfortunately a bit contrived. The strength of THE OLD YOU lies in its subtlety, and some of the story’s final revelations felt overly dramatized in a way that didn’t quite mesh with the delicate drama Voss so carefully crafted for the majority of the book. That is certainly not to say that I didn’t still find this book engaging and entertaining - Voss has written a page-turner with strong character development and compelling emotional resonance - it’s simply to reinforce that readers willing to appreciate light and character-driven suspense will be better suited to this read than those looking to be bowled over by shocking twists.
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.
Follow the Blog Tour:
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Orenda Books (January 1, 2019)
Crime by the Book is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.