This book came to my attention when it began to appear on various “Best of the Year lists” back in 2010. The note I made about it taken from these recommendations was that it was “utterly terrifying”. It did take me quite a while to get round to getting hold of a copy and reading it. I’m not sure I’ve read much fiction that I would class as “utterly terrifying” so it seemed like a must.
Eighteen year old Bronny flees from Australia whilst waiting results for the hereditary Huntingdon’s Disease gene which has killed her mum. She comes to London, moves into a squat and meets a set of equally self-obsessed drug-addled friends. I really was not enjoying this book at this stage. There were too many unsympathetic characters and an almost casual tone that I was really finding difficult to warm to. However, in Part 2, the whole thing shifts up a gear as we realise that a neighbour is being held captive in the basement of the squat. If you find scenes of torture “utterly terrifying” then this is where it all kicks in. I was more upset by a scene of gratuitous cat cruelty, which I’m flagging up here because I know at least one of my regular readers who probably should not read this book. Generally I’m a tough old unshockable fiction reader but when things start happening to animals………. (don’t get me started on Denis O’Connor and his “Paw Tracks In The Moonlight” which is supposed to be heart-warming and gently comic, but, because I knew what was inevitably coming at the end of his story of his lovely relationship with his cat I found the whole thing traumatic!).
Anyway, putting my feline sensitivity aside (and I was brave, I didn’t stop reading at this point) the whole thing then became all rather compelling and I raced through it. There were shifts in the narration style that I found a little jarring and I couldn’t warm to the characters (the exceptions here being the kidnapped woman and her family). I don’t feel that I loved it as much as most of the Amazon reviewers where 28 out of 51 readers have given it five stars but Fitzgerald is an author I would certainly look out for again.
This was my first Helen Fitzgerald book. She has published ten books since 2007 and is fast becoming one of Britain’s leading thriller writers producing books for both the adult and YA market. She is Australian and lives and works (worked?) in Glasgow as a criminal justice social worker.
Her most recent novel “Cry” (2013) attracted considerable attention and was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of The Year
The Devil’s Staircase was published in 2009 by Polygon