Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles.
Life living next to Wandsworth Common is steady and predictable for popular talk show host Gaby Mortimer and her hedge fund-manager husband, Philip, until on one of her morning runs—through the crisscross of branches—Gaby finds a body. Gaby is well aware that Wandsworth is a mugger’s paradise, a place rumored to be full of ghosts and shadows with the trees still “ironclad unyielding figures,” pale mist and the smell of hawthorn hiding the diesel from the trains.
The dead girl’s terribly contorted position adds to her vulnerable look, an appearance further accentuated by the bra hanging loose, the strap a mere string of black lace. Subsequent accusations are marked by the arrival of disheveled, slightly greasy-haired DI Perivale and his assistant, PC Morrow. Overnight, Gaby becomes the prime suspect in the girl’s murder, though she is adamant that she neither touched the body nor has ever before seen the girl.
Perivale makes Gaby feel guilty and defensive at every turn. Endlessly bombarded with questions, memory washes over her like “the shock of a cold wave.” Sidelined by her boss, no longer the glossy “ray of sunshine” she once was, Gaby becomes hyperaware, her nerve endings alert to every encroachment. Gentle, attentive Philip grows suddenly cold and distant, distracted by something he keeps closely guarded, and too busy on his Blackberry to be of much help. Gaby’s mention of their time in Brighton does little to assuage the notion that something has radically changed in her husband’s outlook on his life and on their marriage.
A man who was once pathologically calm and meticulous all too willingly jets off to Singapore for back-to-back meetings. Something has passed between them, and in his face Gaby sees a desperate vulnerability: “It’s shocking how on edge I have been with Philip recently, and how I have imagined every gesture held up against some distant ideal and found wanting.” Perivale, meanwhile, taunts Gaby, who has discovered that her Eastern European nanny Marta has a closer relationship with her baby daughter, Millie, than she at first thought.
When Gaby is arrested for the murder, all she can think about is the crime scene. Trembling and breathing in an odd way, Gaby can’t quite bring herself to ask Philip to return. She literally begs her best friend to break her commandment and convince Millie to be with her. Real feelings of panic and the beginning of fear wash through Gaby’s life, a damp curdling dread of “things that should have been done and haven’t” and of a house consumed with ghosts and shadows that is also too empty of Philip and Millie.
Gripping and utterly absorbing but more atmospheric than truly suspenseful, Durrant’s tale proceeds in Gaby’s fractured first-person narrative. Unfolding in bits and pieces. Gaby’s voice is confidential, one meant just for her—often befuddled by her moneyed position and her memories that could be real or conjured. The reader becomes a part of the existence of this career woman caught up in a loveless, lifeless marriage and hounded by an unsympathetic media that shuns her and brands her a murderer. Gaby’s narrative stretches just as bleak and gray and beige and pockmarked as the river that flows under Battersea Bridge and Trinity Road.
Durrant gives us a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a disturbed fantasist and also some lonely and harried people. Balancing horror and psychosis with an unsettling unease, the author captures many voices in this novel, all of which are as credible and insecure as the next. Sure, revenge is a great motivator for murder, but this is a woman shamed and humiliated who has found her voice at last and will not deny the truth. Even more satisfying is the ominous conclusion that lingers within us where Philip is revealed to be a true master of deception, masking his own needs under the guise of guiding his troubled, selfish soul to peace.