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Wednesday 14 October 2015

‘The Spider in the Corner of the Room by Nikki Owen

Published by Harlequin Mira,
6 July 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-848-45373-9 (PB)

This complex debut thriller starts with an apparently simple premise: a highly qualified plastic surgeon finds herself in prison, convicted of a murder she has no memory of, but is sure she did not commit. To add an extra layer of interest, Maria Martinez suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, which inhibits her understanding of other people’s emotions and prevents her expressing her own.

An intricate structure takes the reader back and forth in time, introducing several different sets of characters, in a way which becomes increasingly confusing and disorientating. It took me a while to realize that this was deliberate, and is intended to mirror what is going on inside Maria’s head. She doesn’t know what is real and what is the product of her tortured mind. Did she really commit the murder, or has she been framed? Will she be able to prove her innocence? Are there MI5 agents inside the prison, or did she imagine them?  Are the contents of her precious notebook meaningless scribbles, or is there a pattern only she can discern?

And above all, who out of all the people she encounters can she really trust?

Nikki Owen has set herself a huge challenge for her first novel, and she rises to it with a skill worthy of a more experienced writer. She creates vivid characters – no mean feat, since they are all presented through the prism of Maria’s damaged emotional vision. Maria’s surroundings, both in the prison and out of it, have an almost tactile reality; a scene in an interview room which appears to be made entirely of sweets is especially memorable. And though the plot is many-stranded and labyrinthine, everything does eventually come together in an explosive ending.

What little I know about Asperger’s Syndrome is largely derived from other fictional depictions of it, so it is difficult to judge whether this portrayal of a protagonist who lives with it is successful, but Owen appears to have researched the subject, and Maria certainly comes across with often painful clarity.

The Spider in the Corner of the Room isn’t an easy read; that sense of disorientation persists through much of the narrative as it switches from one location to another and from time frame to time frame. But stay with it; it’s worth the effort.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Nikki Owen is an award-winning writer and columnist. Previously, Nikki was a marketing consultant and University teaching fellow before turning to writing full time. As part of her degree, she studied at the acclaimed University of Salamanca - the same city where her protagonist of The Spider in the Corner of the Room, Dr Maria Martinez, hails from. The Spider in the Corner of the Room is Nikki's debut international novel - the first in a trilogy - and will be published in several languages. In 2014, the trilogy was optioned by NBC Universal Television for a one-hour returnable TV series.
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.

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