The Sudden Departure of the Frasers (by Louise Candlish)

I’ve liked all the books I’ve read by Louise Candlish, and have gradually been adding more to my wishlist over the past few years. I was given this one last Christmas and it’s sat on my to-read shelf, looking a little daunting as it’s over 500 pages long.

But I decided I would begin ‘The Sudden Departure of the Frasers’ on Saturday evening… and finished it less than two days later. I hardly got anything else done on the Sunday, as I could barely put the book down!

There are two different - but related - storylines which alternate in this novel, as the author skillfully builds up the picture of the two women concerned, Christy and Amber. We meet Christie first, in April 2013. She and her husband Joe have just bought a house in Lime Park Road, an up-and-coming street in London. They can’t quite believe their luck; the price was excellent for a sale without a chain, and they had already sold their previous house.

However they quickly realise that something is wrong. The neighbours won’t speak to them, the downstairs flat next door is also being sold, and there’s a hermit-like man living upstairs, who is abrupt and rude. Moreover, it becomes increasingly obvious that the previous owners, Amber and Jeremy Fraser, spent a vast amount on turning the house into a luxury showhome and then left in a hurry, with no explanation. Nobody seems to know where they have gone, and when Christy tries to find an address for forwarding mail, she doesn’t succeed.

Then we meet Amber, a year earlier, when she and Jeremy have just bought the house and are planning extensive renovations. Jeremy is fifteen years older than she is, and quite wealthy. So she’s taking time off work to supervise the builders and to get to know the neighbours. Her experience is very different from Christy’s, as the others in the street, mostly parents with young families, welcome her with enthusiasm.

Amber’s story is told in the first person which makes it feel more personal, and that’s quite a good device since Amber is not, as it turns out, a particularly nice person. She’s generous, and likes to help people make the best of their appearances, but she thinks nothing of deceiving those she loves. She makes it clear that she had a very wild past, in her late teens and early twenties, but thought she had settled down with Jeremy… until something happens which she believes inevitable.

It’s very cleverly written, I thought. Christy is likeable, if a bit obsessed with the people in the street, and her husband Joe is hard-working and caring. Jeremy is perhaps a bit distant, seeing Amber as something of a trophy wife, but he trusts and loves her and begrudges her nothing. Amber is so dissolute that I never entirely believed in her or her storyline, but somehow that doesn’t matter. The women in the street are somewhat two-dimensional, stereotypical ‘yummy mummies’, and I never really distinguished who was whom; I’d have liked a bit more of Felicity, the elderly woman living next door, who is a much more interesting character than Caroline or Joanna or Liz.

The blurb on the back hints about dark and shocking secrets, and suggests that this is something of a thriller; I think that’s a mistake since it’s essentially a relationship-driven story about uncovering a secret. But by the time the revelation comes, and Christy begins to understand what went on, it’s fairly obviously how the plot is going, and there are really no surprises. Still, I was glad that the final chapters were included to bring closure.

There’s slightly more bad language than I’m comfortable with, and the plot itself is decidedly ‘adult’; yet the author wisely skips almost all the detail in the scenes of intimacy. The writing is excellent, the dialogue believable, on the whole, and the storyline so well crafted that I read long past the time I should have been asleep yesterday, and instead of doing more important things this morning.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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