Book Reviews

The Night Visitor

Author: Lucy Atkins
Published: May 4, 2017 by Quercus
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Hardcover: 356 pages
My Rating: 3 1/3 to 4 stars

Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life of her dreams, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children, and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch party for her new blockbuster book about a pioneering female surgeon of the Victorian era, she can barely pretend to smile. Her perfect life is in fact a desperate tangle of lies, and if the truth were to come out, she would lose everything.

Only one other person knows what Olivia has done: Vivian Tester, the socially awkward, middle-aged housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the diary on which Olivia’s new biography is based. Vivian proved to be remarkably adept at hunting down obscure sources and eventually became Olivia’s unofficial research assistant.

But the seemingly chance circumstances that brought these two very different women together turn out to be far more complex–and far more sinister–than Olivia ever realized. In a gripping narrative that shifts between London, Sussex, and the idyllic South of France, Olivia and Vivian will learn knife-edged truths about themselves and discover just how far each will go to protect her reputation.

The story opens at history professor Olivia Sweetman’s book launch for her novel, Annabel. She is nervous and uneasy, but we don’t know exactly why. She is a highly-educated, career-oriented wife and mother who is unapologetically pursuing her aspirations. Vivian Tester is among the crowd. The story of Annabel is based on the diary of one of Vivian’s ancestors and she assisted Olivia in the research for the novel. There is much more to Vivian than first meets the eye as we will come to realize as the story progresses.

“She felt as if they were balancing an unexploded bomb between them, and if one of them dropped their end it would detonate, taking out the whole family.”

The whole story has a sense of impending doom. It reminded me loosely of the Stephen King novel, Misery. Towards the end, I got the feeling that only one person was going to make it out. The author has extensive experience both as a book critic and a teacher of creative writing and that is evident in her superb writing. The multi-faceted plot is masterfully woven together. It has surprising twists, richly-developed characters, and an overarching sense of tension throughout.

This book offers a different experience in the realm of psychological suspense, and it made for such a refreshing change. Many in this genre focus on marriages and romantic relationships. Instead this one focuses on the intricacies of professional relationships between intelligent, driven women within the world of academia. Readers will be asked to judge for themselves just how far is too far when it comes to achieving your goals, both professional and personal. How far are we willing to go to protect our reputation? Defend our integrity? When push comes to shove, would you act any differently?

If you like atmospheric psychological thrillers with quirky and compelling characters against a backdrop of an old estate and the world of academia, The Night Visitor just might be up your alley.

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