A full cast of hugely relatable characters populate The Heights, Louise Candlish’s latest standalone psychological thriller, but the main one, the mover and shaker at the heart of all that transpires, is the whimsically named Ellen Saint. Wife, mother, businesswoman, as we meet Ellen she is plumbing the very depths of despair, spilling her soul onto the pages of a memoir inspired by a writing class she is attending.
Everyone taking the course has a story to tell, for all of the attendees have been impacted by crime. As Ellen works her way through her story she is being observed by a feature writer from the Sunday Times and is about to become the subject of a big article in the national newspaper’s colour supplement. It’s the first hint that her tale is a little out of the ordinary.
From this intriguing entree, we proceed to Ellen’s memoir, which also begins in bone juddering fashion. Ellen is a lighting designer, specialising in sorting out shadowy corners in the homes of well heeled clients. She’s a little shadowy herself, as we are about to discover as this saga unfolds.
Ellen’s newest brief brings her to Shad Thames, an historic parcel of riverside London just to the south east of Tower Bridge. It is while she is chatting to Selena, who is ‘something in finance’, that Ellen spots a young man out on the terrace of the penthouse flat in the adjacent high rise building, The Heights.
He’s familiar… too bloody familiar. Ellen knows immediately it is Kieran Watts – she would know him anywhere. But it can’t be, because Kieran is dead. And Ellen should know, because she killed him. Suddenly, her world implodes.
Of course, things aren’t as black and white as that stark statement might indicate, for two reasons. Firstly, this is crime fiction, after all, and secondly, Louise Candlish didn’t get where she is today without cementing a reputation for sending her readers down the odd tempting cul-de-sac or three. Be prepared to be bamboozled, confused and completely fooled before this book is over and done with.
Even the structure of The Heights will have you wrong-footed. It is split into three parts, each divided into sections composed by the aforementioned Sunday Times journalist, interspersed with increasingly revealing excerpts from Ellen’s memoir, and juicy narrative from the viewpoints of Ellen and her ex-husband but still good friend, Vic. What unfolds is a shocking story of a family torn apart by tragedy.
Ellen’s grief is palpable and flows off the page. What follows is disturbing and shocking… but is it all true? Candlish plays a blinder here, with unreliable narrators left, right and centre. Who to believe? Well, that’s a tough one to answer, just let me say that although some of the twists can be spotted a mile off, others are destined to take your breath away.
That leapfrogging between narrative strands can prove rather frustrating at times. It tends to stem the reading flow and can make it difficult to remember just who is saying what. Stay focused and you’ll be rewarded with a story of love, obsession, family and revenge that at times seems almost familiar – but then Candlish chucks in another of her trademark ‘what the…???” moment and you’ll be reminded why this author is so well regarded by her peers and her readers.
If you’re a fan of psychological dramas with a dash of domestic noir, then The Heights is for you. It’s Candlish’s best so far. And if you’re new to this author, check out our reviews of previous standalones Our House and Those People.
Louise Candlish lovers will also enjoy The Neighbour by Fiona Cummins.
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 4 Stars