OUR HOUSE by Louise Candlish
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: Page-turning, addictive suspense with a fresh angle
The way I see it, the ever-growing list of new domestic suspense novels is a two-sided coin for us readers. On the one hand, who doesn’t love a great domestic thriller? It’s such fun to see what new suspense novels we can add to our “anticipated reads” lists. But on the other hand… how on earth are you going to separate the great from the so-so? It can feel like picking up a new domestic suspense novel is a bit of a gamble—but not in the case of Louise Candlish’s OUR HOUSE. Fresh, fun, and engrossing, OUR HOUSE is a new take on domestic suspense: a binge-worthy story of secrets in a marriage that will take readers down a totally unexpected path. Come to OUR HOUSE for its gorgeous packaging; stay for its inventive storytelling structure and page-turning reading experience. OUR HOUSE is a little bit twisty, a touch dramatic, and a whole lot of suspense reading fun. It’s hard to describe this book as anything but propulsive—from its first page to its very shocking last, I was hooked on Candlish’s inventive story of betrayal, guilt, and relationships gone very wrong.
There's nothing unusual about a new family moving in at 91 Trinity Avenue. Except it's her house. And she didn't sell it.
When Fiona Lawson comes home to find strangers moving into her house, she's sure there's been a mistake. She and her estranged husband, Bram, have a modern coparenting arrangement: bird's nest custody, where each parent spends a few nights a week with their two sons at the prized family home to maintain stability for their children. But the system built to protect their family ends up putting them in terrible jeopardy. In a domino effect of crimes and misdemeanors, the nest comes tumbling down.
Now Bram has disappeared and so have Fiona's children. As events spiral well beyond her control, Fiona will discover just how many lies her husband was weaving and how little they truly knew each other. But Bram's not the only one with things to hide, and some secrets are best kept to oneself, safe as houses.
There are few things better than a domestic thriller that manages to root itself firmly in the realm of what’s possible, while also managing to inject its story with just enough drama to make it binge-worthy. In her outstanding OUR HOUSE, Louise Candlish walks this fine line effortlessly. OUR HOUSE begins with a premise that is perhaps most terrifying for its plausibility: a woman returns home one day to discover that her husband (from whom she is now separated) has disappeared, taking her sons with him. To make matters worse, it appears that her husband has sold off their home - the safe space in which they’ve raised a family and made a life together - without her permission. Candlish doesn’t kick off her suspense novel with violence or gore, nor does she try to trick readers with smoke and mirrors. We meet protagonist Fiona on the worst day of her life, and are confronted with the realities of her situation even within the book’s first few pages. Candlish puts readers right in the heart of the action right away, and it’s an effective technique—I found myself instantly hooked by the myriad questions Fiona’s predicament raises. Has Bram really done what she suspects he has? How could he have pulled this feat off without her knowledge? Where is Bram, and where are Fiona’s sons? Readers experience in real time the utter confusion and sheer panic of a woman whose life has been shattered in the amount of time it takes to pull into her own driveway. Talk about a gripping opener.
The beginning of OUR HOUSE might be good, but as the book progresses, it gets even better. Through multiple narratives, Candlish deftly addresses the book’s most pressing questions; readers move between Fiona’s past, Bram’s past, and Fiona’s current reflection on the past with surprising ease. This might sound like a lot for one book to juggle, but never fear - Candlish balances these various threads effortlessly, and the story is all the stronger for their intersections. Fiona’s “past” storyline is perhaps the most straightforward, though no less compelling; we follow Fiona as she discovers her husband's betrayal and deals with its fallout. Bram’s “past” is arguably the most emotionally weighty; his “past” is told to readers through an alleged suicide note he has left for his family, detailing the circumstances that led to his earth-shattering betrayal of those he loved most. And then there’s Fiona’s reflection on her past, my personal favorite element of the puzzle that is OUR HOUSE. CBTB readers will know how much I love a good true crime podcast, and Candlish has made what I (a very biased true crime fan!) consider the fantastic choice to incorporate this format of true-crime storytelling into her modern crime fiction novel.
In the present day, Fiona has become the newest participant on a podcast called “The Victim”—a true crime podcast that explores the experiences of victims of crime, as told in their own words. Interspersed throughout the story, readers will be given “transcripts” of Fiona’s appearance on The Victim, complete with fictional social media responses to her appearance. This is every bit as immersive a storytelling tool as it sounds. Candlish’s willingness to step outside her characters and imagine how an “audience” listening to their story on a podcast might respond to them adds another layer of complexity to this plot, but it’s such a welcome one. Neither Fiona nor Bram are the most endearing of characters, and I loved Candlish’s ability to skewer her own characters through these fictional social media responses. It’s a bit like crime writing inception—an author writing about how a fictional audience might respond to the fictional characters she’s created—but Candlish doesn’t just pull it off, she hits it out of the park. Between the “podcast,” Bram’s suicide note, and the glimpses we’re given into Fiona’s actual experiences as they happened, Candlish crafts a tapestry of lies and deception that make for utterly unputdownable reading material. It’s not quite the Rashomon effect, but it’s close: with so many varying perspectives on the “truth” put forth, truth begins to feel subjective, and readers will relish every opportunity to puzzle together who’s being honest - and who isn’t.
Last but certainly not least, it’s worth a moment of consideration that Candlish puts an actual house - a physical piece of property - at the center of her domestic suspense novel. Sure, there are absolutely family secrets and interpersonal betrayals in this story as well, but it was an interesting and notable choice to me that Candlish wanted to put a material object at the heart of her story. For Fiona and Bram, their home in the posh neighborhood of Alder Rise is a physical representation of the life they’ve built together and the status they, as a couple, have secured for themselves. Granted, I’m sure it could be said of any family that their home is central to their life—but I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Candlish made this decision to make a certain point. Status symbols - whether property, fancy clothes, or the picture-perfect image of our lives that we project into the world - are ultimately disposable, as Fiona comes to find out. When all the exterior shininess is stripped away, what is Fiona left with? As it turns out, the foundation of her marriage was rotten, and no lavish home could fix that.
Louise Candlish’s OUR HOUSE is a stunner of a summer suspense novel. I will caution readers that this book is not one that relies on instant, earth-shattering twists; do be patient with this book, but it will have reveals a plenty in store for you. There’s also a healthy dose of drama here, but it is drama of the best kind: addictive, binge-worthy, purely entertaining drama. And last but certainly not least, I would be remiss if I didn’t wrap this interview up by saying: Louise Candlish, you may have sent me into a fit of some strange blend of frustration, disbelief, and just-plain-shocked laughter with that ending. (If you think that’s a cliffhanger, wait until you read OUR HOUSE.)
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: 416 pages
Publisher: Berkley (August 7, 2018)
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.