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Monday, 29 July 2013
‘Accidents Happen’ by Louise Millar
Published by Pan,
11 April 2013.
How does the saying go? Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.
Kate Parker is a bundle of nerves, and as the story unfolds we learn that she has a lot to be nervous about. Her parents died on her wedding day in a horrendous freak accident. Her husband was murdered in a random opportunist robbery. Her house has been burgled twice in a few months. She is the person to whom one in a million accidents always seem to happen. And to cap it all, her in-laws think her permanent state of anxiety is damaging her young son, and she’s afraid they may be right.
Kate deals with the anxiety by playing a numbers game. She researches the odds against specific accidents and disasters and tries to choose the least perilous course of action. So she doesn’t cycle on the road; she refuses to fly; she insists on collecting her son from school although his friends all walk unaccompanied; she constantly upgrades the security around her house. Then she meets Jago, who has an unorthodox way help her kick the numbers habit and regain her confidence.
A problem I sometimes have with suspense novels is that the sense of menace I feel entitled to expect is so low-key that I’m unaware of it till the denouement. That is decidedly not the case in Accidents Happen. It’s clear from the outset that the danger is real and Kate’s fears are justified; someone is out to get her, and it’s not just her controlling in-laws. But the narrative is pitch-perfect; slivers of action serve to misdirect as much as inform the reader, and when the whole truth is finally revealed, it comes as a delicious shock; I certainly didn’t see it coming.
A writer acquaintance of mine has a theory that in the best fiction the characters don’t know they’re in a story, but simply get on with living. That’s what happens here; as well as reacting to events, people connect with each other, growing closer and drawing back; relationships develop and change, and everyone has a layered existence which feeds into the main narrative line. When Kate’s ‘haunting’ is over and her recovery is well under way, there’s a sense that they will all go right on with their lives.
Millar draws those lives with a sure hand against a rich background of tension, and creates a taut, edgy page-turner of a novel with plenty of surprises and a killer of a resolution. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the ending is tied up a little too neatly and the villain’s comeuppance is a little too drastic. But that takes nothing away from the skill with which she plays the reader en route for that ending.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Louise Millar was brought up in Scotland. She began her journalism career in mainly music and film magazines, working as a sub-editor for Kerrang!, Smash Hits, the NME and Empire. She later moved into features, working as a commissioning editor on women's magazines. She has written for Marie Claire, Red, Psychologies, Stella (Telegraph magazine), the Independent, the Observer, Glamour, Stylist and Eve.
She lives in London with her husband and daughters.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning.
She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.