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Thursday 3 August 2023

‘The Stranger Beside Me’ by Caroline England

Published by Piatkus,
3 August 2023. 
978-0-349-43149-9 (PB)

Caroline England’s latest psychological thriller is a tangled web of secrets. Every character has one; some the reader is allowed to share from the outset; others are revealed as the narrative progresses; yet others come to explosive light when the book is almost over.

The result is a page-turner packed with interesting personalities. Needy, flamboyant, borderline narcissistic Sibeal (pronounced as it’s spelled, not Shibale as her Irish mother intended) is there at the start, gatecrashing a funeral we soon discover is her married lover’s. He is her secret, even from her musician brother Gabriel, who is her minder, confidant and best friend.

Then there’s Katy, single mother to bright and engaging five-year-old Milo. She’s also needy, but in a quiet way, following the death of her beloved mother. She lives with her father Alexander, who has nursed her through her crippling grief while he dealt with his own. Sibeal, now crippled with grief herself, and self-medicating with alcohol, adopts Katy as her new best friend, at much the same time as Katy meets Harry, a junior doctor, and begins to realize that there’s life beyond grief after all. Until Harry’s own secret begins to emerge.

And of course, Katy and Alexander each have their own secrets, which is when it starts to get really complicated.

Intriguing characters who are not what they seem form the flesh and blood of any gripping fiction but creating them isn’t Caroline England’s only talent. She has placed her vividly drawn cast in equally cinematic surroundings: the musty, cluttered old house Sibeal and Gabriel are clearing out after their father’s death; the pristine and luxurious home Katy shares with her father and small son;  Harry’s comfortable house which comes complete with dog.

All this has become England’s stock-in-trade. The places feel as if we could walk in and recognize them. Some of the people are colourful and larger than life, like Sibeal; others, like Katy, Gabriel and Harry, are the kind of people we meet every day. The complex relationships which connect them, the flaws they reveal, and above all the undercurrents which lurk, waiting to emerge, all combine into a rich mixture destined to erupt into a climax which is both shocking and inevitable. 

The first fifty pages may dictate whether a book will grip you; the last fifty, especially in this case, are the ones that keep you reading compulsively until the final secret spills out. Caroline England is a dab hand at both.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Caroline England was born in Yorkshire. She studied Law at the University of Manchester and stayed over the border. She writes multi-layered, dark and edgy ‘domestic suspense’ stories that delve into complicated relationships, secrets and the moral grey area. Her debut novel, Beneath the Skin, was published by Avon HarperCollins in October 2017, followed by My Husband's Lies, Betray Her and Truth Games.  Under the name CE Rose she has also penned gothic-tinged psychological thrillers The House Of Hidden Secrets and The House On The Water's Edge.  Drawing on her days as a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer, she loves to create ordinary, relatable characters who get caught up in extraordinary situations, pressures, dilemmas or crime. She also enjoys performing a literary sleight of hand in her novels and hopefully surprising her readers! Her fifth psychological thriller The Sinner was published in June 2022.

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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