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Thursday 2 February 2023

‘You Can Stay’ by Elle Connel

Published by Wildfire,
15 September 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-4772-9066-3 (PBO)

Picture the scene: an ambitious career Marine, aiming for the top, goes on an intensive training course which opens the door to Special Forces. The final stage takes place on a barren stretch of moorland; all he has to do is avoid being hunted down by fellow soldiers with fierce dogs and survive for several days with almost no resources. He meets a woman who offers him a hot meal and a comfortable bed, just for one night. What harm can it do?

The answer is in this fast-paced, sometimes violent, often shocking novel. Connor, the Marine, soon finds that there’s a new surprise round every corner as apparently hospitable Eilidh provides all the pleasures of home, but with an agenda that’s all her own.

It’s a close-knit, claustrophobic situation, and Elle Connel proves herself a master of atmosphere. Bodmin Moor has never seemed so bleak; even the bothy where Connor and his oppo Dele take shelter is completely devoid of any kind of comfort. Eilidh’s remote but well-equipped cottage is bliss by comparison, warm, cosy and welcoming, at least at first. She feeds Connor home-made cookies and delicious lentil stew; encourages him to use the shower, take a much-needed nap and generally make himself at home. Then, almost inevitably, she takes him to her bed. And that’s when his troubles really begin.

Connor himself is a mass of contradictions. He longs for the kind of family life he once enjoyed with his estranged partner and their baby but can’t bring himself to give up the adventure offered by the itinerant military life. He’s tough on the outside, can endure any hardship, but finds himself unable to resist Eilidh’s blandishments. Eilidh on the other hand knows exactly what she wants, and has decided exactly how to go about achieving it, with no qualms at all about the lengths she has to go to.

Also sharing the cottage is Julie, an older woman who is supposedly Eilidh’s sister. Julie is damaged in some way, possibly through dementia, and finds it hard to understand what is going on – though she does as Eilidh tells her. Not so Anthony, Eilidh’s brother, who turns up late in the day and fuels the reader’s suspicions that Eilidh’s background is not quite the way she describes it.

It soon becomes apparent, to the reader if not to Connor, that nothing about the situation is as it seems and it isn’t going to end well. In fact, the mystery, almost to the final page, is how on earth it is going to end. And that gripped me and kept me reading into the small hours and will do the same for you.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elle Connel is the pseudonym of Lucy Ribchester, whose previous novels, The Hourglass Factory and The Amber Shadows, were historical thrillers. She has a first-class degree in English from the University of St Andrews and a Masters in Shakespeare Studies from Kings College London. Her previous work has won her a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, and short listings for the Costa Short Story Award and Manchester Fiction Prize. She lives in Edinburgh with her partner and two sons. Down by the Water was her first book as Elle Connel.

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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