Friday, February 21, 2014

British Thriller: Sabine Durrant, UNDER YOUR SKIN

UNDER YOUR SKIN was published in Britain last summer, but just released here this month. It's the first time I've run across the author, Sabine Durrant, and in a way, that's not surprising -- a quick check of the British reviews reveals that she's known better there for two books of "mum-lit," a term that's maybe a degree more awful than the American "chick lit" label. A further two books are novels for teenage girls, on the young side.

But here she is with a tightly plotted thriller and an irresistible protagonist: Gaby Mortimer, a TV co-anchor so significant that the station routinely has a car service collect her in the morning. Even though she's the mom of a little girl, and has a prosperous husband, her social life is mostly empty -- paparazzi snatch photos of her, and the other moms at the playground don't come too close.

Things are about to get worse -- a lot worse. Because Gaby, out for her morning run before the car service arrives, finds a dead body on the common near her home. And the young dead woman looks hauntingly similar to Gaby herself.

From here on, the mantra of her life might as well be, "Things can always get worse." The nanny taking care of her child clearly dislikes Gaby. Gaby's husband is getting less connected to her by the day -- he even misses their daughter's birthday supper. And the co-anchor at work, jealous and nasty, would love to put his own candidate into her seat in front of the camera.

When suspicion finally settles on Gaby herself, in the eyes of a suspicious police officer who's making a blind guess, even work stops being a haven. Gaby reaches the show producer, who says, "I think you should have a few days at home."
"Honestly, I'm totally fine. I haven't read the papers yet, but I'm going to get on to them in the car. I am going to be hot with ideas, I promise." ...

She doesn't answer. I hear clattering in the background, cameras moving, doors shutting. A long, uncomfortable silence in which my hand clutches the bannister so tightly I hear it creak, feel the post beneath it shift. ... Something inside me cracks open. Finally, Terri says, "I'm sorry, Gaby. The big cheeses don't think it's right for you to come in, not just at the moment, while the enquiry into this murder is still ongoing."
Obviously, it's not enough to be innocent. And tabloid headlines grow vicious, along with nasty photos. Gaby soon feels the enquiry is stripping her to nothing -- a woman without friends, a woman who isn't liked.

Durrant's compelling narrative is all too believable, and Gaby could be any of us, suddenly caught in the terrible pressure of public opinion and mistaken assumptions.

But nothing in Durrant's story is what it seems. When the plot twists hit, they're swift and sharp, carried at a fast-moving pace that supports exactly what makes this thriller so creepy ... its closeness to our own experience, its constant threat level, and its unexpected dangers.

It's clear Durrant has found her way to top-notch suspense, and likes writing it -- because her next title, Remember Me This Way, is a psychological thriller that Hodder and Stoughton is already announcing in Britain.  No translators are needed, so I hope the U.S. edition of this next book will follow soon!

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