“Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Just days before his university graduation, Harry Ackerson receives a telephone call telling him his father is dead. It appears that the healthy Bill Ackerson went for a walk along the cliffs overlooking the ocean on the Maine coast, took a fatal fall off the cliff, and perished. His mother died of cancer when Harry was just fifteen years old, so now Harry is quite alone in the world with the exception of his beautiful stepmother, Alice. Alice was quite a bit younger than his Dad, only a decade or so older than Harry.
Bill Ackerson was a bookseller and the owner of two antiquarian bookstores, one in Manhattan, and one in the small Maine town where he lived. He spent his days traveling the country scouting books at flea markets and estate sales. He was inordinately fond of vintage mystery novels.
“Bill Ackerson would never know that he wound up
as a corpse in his own mystery story.”
The day of Bill’s funeral, which should have been Harry’s graduation day, was a traumatic and deeply sad one for Harry. Shortly after the funeral, while Harry was staying with Alice, the police come to the door with the news that they believe Bill’s fall was not accidental. He had been hit over the head before his fall.
In the weeks following, Harry learns that he did not know his father as well as he had previously thought. It doesn’t help that Harry finds himself quite physically attracted to his stepmother.
This is the third thriller I’ve read by Peter Swanson and I’ve quite enjoyed them all. I liked the clear deliniation between the dual timelines with some chapters headed THEN and others NOW. Also, I really enjoyed the myriad literary references.
Alice’s story was captivating to read. She was a deeply damaged and deluded individual who seemed to leave death and destruction behind her like a natural disaster. Coldly beautiful, she seemed to have little substance behind her attractive facade. Though I did not ‘like‘ Alice, reading her story was akin to watching a train wreck.
Harry’s character which should have been sympathetic – left me feeling quite apathetic. I’m not sure of the reason for this… It seemed that all of the characters in the book were quite narcissistic. The novel contained a few plot twists, but to be brutally honest they were not really unexpected twists.
This is a well-paced, though lackluster, psychological thriller that examines unhealthy May-December relationships. It also scrutinizes what the lack of a nurturing and loving parent/child relationship can do the the adult psyche. Unnatural obsessions and socially unacceptable love affairs predominate the narrative.
In short, I enjoyed the novel, but perhaps not as much as previous works by this author. Would I read another book by this author? Absolutely! Would I recommend this one? Yes, with some reservations.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from William Morrow via Edelweiss.
I provided this unbiased review voluntarily.
Peter Swanson is the author of five novels: The Girl With a Clock For a Heart, The Kind Worth Killing, Her Every Fear, All the Beautiful Lies, and coming in 2019, Before she knew him.
His books have been translated into 30 languages, and his stories, poetry, and features have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Atlantic Monthly, Measure, The Guardian, The Strand Magazine, and Yankee Magazine.
A graduate of Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College, he lives in Massachusetts with his wife and cat.