‘Alys, Always’, a dedication on the opening page of Laurence Kyte’s new novel. Alys is the name of the bestselling novelist’s wife. The opening of this novel finds us at the scene of a car accident. Alys is in the overturned car when a stranger finds her and keeps her company ’til the ambulance shows up. We later learn that Alys doesn’t make it. This book is about that stranger; Frances.
Frances is an easily forgettable person. She works on a newspaper, proofing and editing other people’s book reviews, doesn’t have much of a life and blends very nicely into the background:
‘Childhood just happened to me, as I suppose it happens to most people. At the time, I suppose it seemed an endless succession of fears and dreams and secrets, but from this distance it looks as dull as the life I’ve gone on to lead.‘
But when the police call upon her to provide closure for Alys’s family (Laurence and their two grown up children) by telling them what her last words and thoughts were, an opportunity for a change in both her personal and professional circumstances arises. Sitting on that roadside speaking to Alys, Frances determines many things:
‘It seems strange that I know little more about her than the automatic associations that come with a certain sort of voice, and turn of phrase, and make of car…that moment in the woods when I briefly heard her voice and knew it, knew almost everything about her that mattered. The ease and comfort and significance of her life.’
And so she starts to very subtly weave herself into the Kyte’s lives and we begin to see what lies beneath her dull exterior: ‘In general, I’m content for them to think I’m dull. It’s safer that way.’ Frances is that Judy Dench character in Zoe Heller’s ‘Notes on a Scandal’, so for that reason I didn’t find this to be highly original. And also, I found her to be completely unlikable, though her cunning is very quietly chilling.
Is this a psychological thriller like the cover claims it is? In a word, no. I think it’s too subtle to be successfully classed as a thriller. Though Harriet Lane writes well and I’d probably read anything else she may write in the future (this is her debut novel), I found this story to be quite predictable. There definitely was something that kept me reading, a desire to know where the tale was going, but ultimately, I expected a twist in the end that did not come and with hindsight, feel that you can see what the truth is from a mile off.