I should start by saying how much I loved Peter Swanson’s first two books – 'The Girl With a Clock for a Heart' and 'The Kind Worth Killing’. Both had the feel of a really good Hitchcock film – seriously stylish, skillfully plotted, with characters you cared about even when they weren’t particularly likeable. Being likeable has always struck me as an over-rated virtue in a fictional character, especially in crime fiction. I want characters who’ll challenge and surprise me, not people I’d like to be friends with.
And so we come to his third book, 'Her Every Fear’. Has he pulled it off again and scored a hat trick? Well, yes and no. For me personally, this wasn’t nearly as compelling as his previous two novels. It took me far longer to read, and there were times when I skipped several pages in frustration. I even considered giving up on it at one point, but felt compelled to read on in the hope that things would improve. They did.
The premise is a good one. Scarred by an attack, Londoner Kate Priddy lives in a constant state of anxiety. In an attempt to reclaim control of her life, she agrees to an apartment swap with her cousin Corbin in Boston, hoping that a new city will offer a fresh new start. But soon after Kate arrives, Corbin’s next door neighbour Audrey is found dead. Outside her comfort zone, cut off from her family and emotionally unstable, we’re left wondering how reliable Kate’s instincts are. Who can she trust? Is she right to be suspicious about cousin Corbin? What are the police not telling her?
The book has overtones of ‘Strangers on a Train’, complete with a mildly homoerotic bond between two men who come together to commit a terrible crime. Personally, I found this plot line far more gripping than the earlier scenes involving Kate in Boston, some of which feel padded with references to the books on the shelves or the TV shows she’s watching. Things fall into place around the halfway mark. As the two storylines converge, Swanson cranks up the tension – and by the final third of the book I was seriously gripped, desperate to know what happens next. The pay off is satisfying and there are enough twists, turns and moral ambiguity to keep us guessing right up to the end.
‘Her Every Fear’ isn’t my favourite of Swanson's books, but it’s still head and shoulders above much of the competition.
Faber & Faber, £6.99