Eve and Gregg were the perfect couple, with the perfect marriage…which has become the perfect lie. Gone is the charming, attentive Gregg – instead, Eve wakes up each morning beside a manipulative and sinister man who controls his wife’s every move.
So Eve flees her immaculate marital home to keep herself, and young son Jack safe. Yet no matter how careful she has been, she knows Gregg will be relentless in his pursuit of his missing family. And that one day, when she’s least expecting it, he will find them…
What was Eve’s greatest mistake?
Marrying Gregg? Leaving him? Or leaving him alive…?
I creep nervously into my own home; listening. Silence. Keys clasped tightly in my hand. No obvious signs of an intruder, no kicked-down doors or shattered crockery strewn across the floor. My heart pounds in my ears like a damp drum as I slink through the kitchen towards the back door. Startled, as a dark shadow thuds at the window. I jump and drop my keys. The minute sound of my keys hitting hard floor fills the room. ‘Christ, Humphrey, why did you do that?’ He waits in total nonchalance at the foot of the door outside. I rattle the handle and breathe again. Thank God, I did lock the door.
But still, there is something alien dangling in the air. If I didn’t know better, if the door had been unlocked, I’d swear someone has been in my home.
I pull open the door to an appreciative ball of fluff; he wraps himself around my legs. Purring. I pick him up and snuggle my face into indulgent fur, allowing my heartbeat to return to baseline. ‘You’re coming upstairs with me, mister, keep me company whilst I get ready for work. Frightening me like that, how could you? Haven’t you realised you’re living with a neurotic woman?’
I survey the sitting room as I creep through, before gingerly taking the stairs, still half-expecting someone to jump out. ‘What’s wrong with me, Humph, eh? Why can’t you talk to me? Did you see anyone?’ I sneak along the landing towards my bedroom, stopping to check Jack’s room first, all the usual potential hiding places. The wardrobe, under the bed. Nothing but used crockery – Jack and his blinking late-night cereal cravings. Still, with Humphrey purring in my arms, I move on to my room.
I place him on my bed, where he immediately stretches out to fill the abstract shape of sun rays. ‘So tell me, Humph, to pull myself together. No one’s been in the house. The door was locked, and there’s no other way in.’ Big round eyes glare back at me before he begins his grooming process. ‘No useful words of wisdom, eh? Anything will do? Or have you been silenced? Coerced to the dark side?’ He gives me the look of disdain only cats can do. ‘I get it, you’re just refusing to humour me. Wise move.’
I convince myself it’s safe for the moment. I need to get a move on for work. An invigorating shower of soft florals, all the time with a watchful eye on the door. Only panicking when the shampoo temporarily obscures my vision, rinsing it through as quickly as if my life depends on it. Not long later, I leave the house, double-checking the locks. Not bad, a transformation from home-comfort clothes to a tailored azure dress. Softly applied make-up, coral lips. Elegant shoes with a sharp distinguishing echo. Finally, my files, mobile and diary. All in less than thirty minutes. Trepidation has its perverse benefits.
Ready for another borrowed day.
Choosing where to open my clinic was easy. I peered through sash windows before a toadying agent opened the door to the pretty, terraced, Cornish sandstone and slate building. Proudly nestled between its charming, unassuming neighbours. Two mottled slate steps lead the way to the solid wood door of 39b Lemon Street. Warm, humble and crammed with character. Inside, a large reception window films passing life, sweeping down to the heart of Truro. ‘Sometimes, things just feel right,’ I’d agreed with the toady agent.
Knowing Ruan, my fresh-faced, uncomplicated-by-life assistant, will always be there to open up first is a blessing. Despite his ungodly early morning jaunt to catch the sunrise waves. He’s then usually followed by Bea, the physiotherapist who sublets a room. Today, when I push through the door, characteristically late, the sunlight fills the reception area, elbowing through the leaded window. The cream slatted blinds are pulled back tight to allow shimmering beams to create a warming ambience. Thoughtful shadows grace the archetypal dense walls. Not all shadows are dark, I remind myself.
Thrillers based on domestic violence are a favourite psychological thriller theme, but this one makes an impact because of its professional language and authenticity. It’s not easy to read, the author jumps between timelines, the abuser and his victims but although it is sometimes difficult to follow, it makes it realistic and believable.
The premise drew me in, and in many ways, it does fulfil its promise. The descriptions of Eve’s life with Gregg are detailed and vivid. There’s no doubt about his systematic destruction of her. For me, there is too much detail and too many examples of abuse. I don’t need to drown in detail to understand.
His pursuit of her after ten years is carried out with similar ruthless intent. Again this is overlong for me; the medical detail sometimes detracts from the story’s compelling suspense element. The characters are not easy to empathise. Mainly due to the writing style relying more on narration than showing how the characters feel through their actions and emotions.
Overall it is a promising debut, with explicit professional knowledge and experience, a little more storytelling and a little less professional speke would make this a real page-turner.
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Sarah Simpson has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and has worked in a neuro-psychology department at a Brain Rehabilitation Hospital. When she first graduated she formed a mental health consultancy and worked as a psychologist within the family court system of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. Three years ago she moved to Cornwall with her husband and three children and runs her own practice in Truro. Her Greatest Mistake is her first novel, and she is currently working on the second.