THE NIGHT VISITOR by Lucy Atkins
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: fresh, unputdownable suspense - a Summer 2018 must-read!
Every summer that CBTB has been in existence, there’s been one out-of-left-field psychological thriller that has snuck up on me and totally blown me away. In 2016, this was BLOOD WEDDING by Pierre Lemaitre; in 2017, it was a book I was lucky enough to work on publicity for - FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager. This year, I’ve found my “out-of-left-field” favorite: THE NIGHT VISITOR by Lucy Atkins. Atkins is an award-winning author and journalist, and THE NIGHT VISITOR is her third novel - but it’s the first of her work that has ever found its way onto my reading list, and boy, am I so glad that it did. After devouring this exceptional psychological thriller, Atkins has secured herself a spot on my list of must-read suspense writers. So impressed was I with Atkins’ writing that I did a little reading about her background, and discovered that she has extensive experience both as a book critic and a teacher of creative writing. Frankly, given the quality of her newest release, I wasn't the least bit surprised. Take it from me: her professional experience shows. Wholly original and utterly unputdownable, THE NIGHT VISITOR delivers a superb story of suspense with a personality all its own. If you love gripping psychological thrillers, quirky and compelling characters, and a story with a totally unique backdrop (an old estate + the world of academia!), THE NIGHT VISITOR belongs on your reading list. In short: every book should be as fun to read as this one.
You have the perfect life... How far would you go to protect it?
Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life of her dreams, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children, and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch party for her new blockbuster book about a pioneering female surgeon of the Victorian era, she can barely pretend to smile. Her perfect life is in fact a desperate tangle of lies, and if the truth were to come out, she would lose everything.
Only one other person knows what Olivia has done: Vivian Tester, the socially awkward, middle-aged housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the diary on which Olivia's new biography is based. Vivian proved to be remarkably adept at hunting down obscure sources and eventually became Olivia's unofficial research assistant.
But the seemingly chance circumstances that brought these two very different women together turn out to be far more complex--and far more sinister--than Olivia ever realized. In a gripping narrative that shifts between London, Sussex, and the idyllic South of France, Olivia and Vivian will learn knife-edged truths about themselves and discover just how far each will go to protect her reputation.
What takes a psychological thriller from good to great? There are the standard elements: convincing, surprising twists; richly-developed characters; an overarching sense of tension throughout the story. But many books tick those boxes, so what takes a read to the next level? For me, it always comes down to personality: an author’s willingness to inject his or her story with a flavor that is unique and irreplicable. My favorite reads tend to be those that are, as I like to think of it, "weird in the best possible sense of the word"—and if that appeals to you, too, then you will love THE NIGHT VISITOR. Lucy Atkins pulls no punches in her sinister story of suspense: her protagonists are not only brimming with secrets, but they’re brimming with unique personality traits, interests, and backgrounds that elevate this story from a strong psychological thriller to a really superb one. To be clear, this elevation wouldn’t be possible without a strong foundation, and Atkins undoubtedly provides the kind of fundamental strength of plotting that any great psychological thriller needs to have—but it’s really her sharp and compelling characters that take THE NIGHT VISITOR to the next level.
So who are these women, the women who drive THE NIGHT VISITOR forward? Olivia Sweetman and Vivian Tester are, at face value, polar opposites. Olivia is a renowned historian whose career has taken off; she now finds herself a fixture of popular culture, and has just completed work on a biography that is poised to propel her straight to the bestseller lists. Vivian Tester is a middle-aged housekeeper of a manor house; she is socially-awkward and uncomfortable in the spotlight, preferring to keep to herself in the company of her beloved dog Bertie. But the lives of these women are inextricably linked. Vivian is the person who discovered the diary upon which Olivia’s new book is based, and, given her familiarity with the material and eagerness to participate in the research process, Vivian quickly becomes Olivia’s unofficial research assistant. The twisting and turning of the relationship between these two women becomes the driving force of THE NIGHT VISITOR—and what a driving force it is. A sinister secret lurks in the shadows of the apparently innocent connection these two women share, and readers will be on the edge of their seats as the authors masterfully brings it into the light.
The relationship between Olivia and Vivian is undeniably entertaining, and it’s also deeply refreshing. How many psychological thrillers have you read recently that focus not only on the inner workings of a relationship between women, but a relationship between academic women at that? (And, to be clear, the relationship found in the pages of this book is strictly platonic - I just use the word “relationship” rather than “friendship” because, well… you’ll see!) Atkins has crafted characters who may not be aspirational, but they certainly are a welcome change of pace from what we might consider more standard psychological suspense fare. Olivia is a highly-educated, career-oriented mother and wife who is unabashedly pursuing her aspirations; Vivian is, as the reader will come to find out, much more than first meets the eye—she has a compelling backstory that will be unveiled to readers as the story progresses. I love psychological suspense novels that focus on marriages and romantic relationships, too, but there really is something exceptional about discovering an author who has chosen to push the boundaries of what’s “trendy” right now and explore the intricacies of professional relationships between intelligent, driven women, rather than the inner workings of a marriage plagued by betrayals and lies. THE NIGHT VISITOR is a taut push-and-pull between two people determined to reach their goals—one more concerned with the consequences than the other. In fact, the very phenomenon of ambition is put under the microscope here; readers will be asked to judge for themselves just how far is too far when it comes to achieving your goals, both professional and personal. As a bonus (as if this book needed one!), if you love books set in the world of academia, you will find THE NIGHT VISITOR right up your alley. While this story isn’t set in a university locale, the heart of this book is the process of writing a historical biography—a biography of one of the first female doctors in Victorian England, at that! Give me more books like this: books that are as packed with entertainment value as they are focused on crafting female characters with agency and depth.
Speaking of entertainment value: THE NIGHT VISITOR delivers. One of my primary goals when starting Crime by the Book was to remind readers (whether lapsed readers of crime fiction or newcomers to the genre entirely) just how fun a reading experience crime fiction provides—and to celebrate the value in that sheer joy of reading. If all books read like THE NIGHT VISITOR, my goal would be well exceeded. I always know I’m really, genuinely loving my current read when I look forward to my commute on the always-overcrowded NYC subways just so I can sneak in more reading time, and that was exactly how I felt for the duration of this read. Atkins balances different perspectives and timelines effortlessly; readers will be swept up in her superb plotting and pacing. This book is a binge-read that you want to savor just because you don’t want it to end. Readers will learn more than they ever thought they would about dung beetles (and, shockingly enough, love every moment of it); they will travel from England to France and back again; they will find themselves drawn into the dark corners of a home - and of our main characters' lives. Add in a healthy dose of chilling personal secrets - readers will be disturbed to discover what exactly the book’s title refers to - and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a summer must-read.
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: 544 pages
Publisher: Quercus (July 3, 2018)
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