Keep Your Friends Close
Paula Daly
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Buy *Keep Your Friends Close* by Paula Dalyonline

Keep Your Friends Close
Paula Daly
Grove Press
336 pages
September 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Natty and her husband, Sean, are busily running a five-star hotel in the Lake District’s Bowness-on-Windermere. Natty seems to have her life together emotionally and financially and loves her two daughters, Alice and Felicity. Lately, however, Natty has felt that she’s not just hiding but also masking the flash of anger. Sean and her have not had sex in a while, and according to Sean, “this situation can’t go on forever.”

Enter Eve, Natty’s best friend, who Natty remembers arriving at college from train from Southampton and surprising Natty with her “burlesque lingerie.” Now Eve is a successful therapist who lives in the United States and is finishing up a series of lectures in Scotland. “The clever girl with the good job,” Eve is passing through and wants to stay with Sean and Natty for a few days. Natty, meanwhile, is in denial about the current state of her marriage. This leads to the first of many twists in Daly’s story, motivated by the notion that Sean and Eve have a particular kind of chemistry.

Spring weather is coming, but the dark pall of winter hangs over Natty. All that is needed for the eventual unraveling of a marriage is to sow the initial seed of doubt. Suddenly this couple, previously the hallmark of success and contentedness, find themselves moving into another realm with their petty worries and fallouts, far from the standard the typical family. Natty finds herself reeling with the horror and confusion of that terrible morning when she gets the phone call that Felicity has suddenly fallen ill on a field trip to France.

Luckily, Sean has Eve, who offers to stay awhile. But Eve is proving to be a sharp, manipulative opportunist, arriving at the conclusion that she’d be an idiot not to act upon this serendipitous turn of events. Eve—ever calculating—lets Alice drink a glass of wine over dinner, telling her loads of “really cool stuff about America” while ruminating on the possibilities of what she can do for Sean. It’s hard to imagine how Sean would be seduced by just one “blow job,” as Eve puts it. From Grace’s vantage point, she’s no longer so scattered and trusting; she realizes there are just too many questions surrounding Eve’s seductive modus operandi.

Daly’s thriller is awash in emotional anguish as she builds on Natty’s uneasiness over Sean’s infidelity, Eve’s betrayal, and the aura of secrecy that up until now has pervaded Eve’s life. Natty’s rage consumes her, fuelled by Jackie, her dope-smoking father’s caregiver. She plans ways to get back at Sean, to get back at Eve, but not before her volcanic emotion and her primal recklessness gets the better of her. Moving between misery and anger, Natty spends much of the early sections of the novel fuelled by shame and embarrassment that she can’t keep hold of her husband: “If he was getting some at home, he wouldn’t have gone elsewhere.”

Only Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall, who investigates Eve’s past, seems to give this tale heart as the story transforms into a pretty a standard investigative thriller. Who is the real Eve? What is she hiding? For Natty, the misery of the past few days comes crashing to the forefront, from the stresses of having a sick child to Eve, suddenly ensconced in Natty’s house. Eve is the one person aware of Sean’s weak spot, so it’s not surprising that she has placed herself in a perfect position. Like Eve, Natty has also tried to shave off the past by living a lie. “Living inauthentically” is Natty’s polite way of saying someone is “spinning a web of bullshit” to cover past mistakes.

Vulnerable and on edge, Natty’s anguished, poignant first-person narrative echoes as she searches for the truth behind Eve’s past. Daly’s prose is always compelling as she crafts a powerful and serpentine scenario, pitting Natty against a suspicious DC Aspinall and an unbalanced Eve in a violent cliffhanger in which Natty must fight to keep her family together.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2014

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