Author: Clare Mackintosh
Publisher: Berkley Books
I opted to read this book because the title sounded intriguing. I thought it would be about a creepy stalker, and of course it was. But the larger premise was completely silly and faulty.
The book is written in the first person present tense point of view of Zoe Walker, a working woman and divorced single mother, and the third person past tense point of view of cop Kelly Swift.
We also have the chilling first person present tense point of view of the predator in italics. The short chapters from the PoV of the predator were intriguing, as he slowly let out bits of his modus operandi.
Zoe lives with her grown children, Justin and Katie, and her lover, Simon, a senior journalist. The opening chapter from Zoe’s viewpoint describes her daily routine and habits to us in slow and endless detail, but somebody, it seems, already knows these details about her.
Zoe sees her photo in an advertisement in a newspaper. It appears to be an ad for dating services, but Zoe has no idea what her picture might be doing there. The picture is accompanied by a website address, findtheone.com, and a number, which isn’t a telephone number.
Detective Kelly, who is a cop with the British Tube Transport, has her own past. Her twin sister was raped in college, but while her twin has put the rape behind her and settled in happy domesticity with her husband and sons, Kelly blames herself for not having been able to save her, for not having found her rapist and booked him for the crime.
While Zoe’s family dismisses her fears, she remains convinced that something more sinister is afoot. She takes her fears to Kelly, who, sensing the commonalities with the cases of certain other women whose photos also appeared in ads on other days, recognizes the danger to Zoe.
The fact that her twin sister was once sexually assaulted makes Kelly more prone to trauma, more sympathetic to victims of sexual assaults.
Kelly cracks the code in the ad and learns the modus operandi of the devious stalker.
For a fee, he allows subscribers to have access to the routine and other personal details of women. Subscribers can then use that information to do whatever they want with the women, whether their intentions be pleasant or otherwise.
Reading the stalker’s PoV helped me realize the importance of changing my habits occasionally, of not being a creature of habit. As he says, Routine is comforting to you. It’s familiar, reassuring. Routine makes you feel safe. Routine will kill you.
In each update, the stalker describes the routine of a different woman in scary detail. Gradually, all the women who are featured in the advertisements become victims of some form of attack. Tania Beckett is killed. Cathy Tanning has her keys stolen and her home broken into.
As Zoe join the dots, she begins to experience panic attacks for her own safety and that of her daughter. She is convinced that her own life is in danger, but the police don’t take her seriously. Nor do Simon and the kids. Only Melissa, her friend and next door neighbor, is alarmed to hear of Zoe’s fears.
When Katie takes up a gig as an unpaid actor for a Shakespearean play, Zoe becomes suspicious of her director. She also begins to doubt the intentions of Simon, who, she realizes, has lied to her in the past. It all comes to a head when Zoe sees a man following her.
Are her fears a figment of her imagination or is someone really out to harm her? Will the police nab the mystery stalker before Zoe or Katie get seriously hurt?
That's the basic plot.
The author has tried hard to make the characters real by giving them real issues. For instance, Kelly has severe anger management issues and has assaulted a prisoner in the past.
But the effort doesn’t help. All the characters, including Zoe and Kelly, Katie, Justin, Melissa, and her husband, Neil, and Zoe’s boss, Graham, are utterly flat and boring.
The stalker, when revealed, was utterly unmenacing. The rationale for why the stalker was putting up the women’s details online was ridiculous, making the twist, when it comes, appear lame and pathetic. It was a bit like the act of setting a house on fire to take out a rat.
While the stalker is killed in a physical altercation with Zoe, it is not the end of Zoe’s troubles. The book ends with a relieved Zoe, blissfully ignorant of the fact that the stalker was only a willing tool and that the real mastermind of the website is very much alive and plotting his next move.
Oddly, the author doesn't appear to be writing the sequel, even though the ending gives us the impression that one might be coming.
By the time I came to the last page, I was ready to scream. Because if the stalker’s identity was unbelievable, that of the real mastermind was even more impossible to give credence to.
An extract of a review printed at the top of the very interesting all-blue cover page described the book as “(a) deliciously creepy tale of urban paranoia.”
Urban paranoia was fine, but deliciously creepy? No way.
In sum, not a book I’d recommend at all.
(I got a free ARC from FirstToRead).
(I got a free ARC from FirstToRead).