REVIEW – The Sudden Departure of the Frasers, by Louise Candlish

One of the main queries (and concerns!) I have about writing mysteries is what to reveal and when. Too much, and you give the game away too early. Too little and the reader loses interest. I try and read mysteries with one eye on which clues are dropped and when, but it’s usually difficult not to get immersed. Personally, I find it easier when watching mysteries on TV. Constrained by time, clues are a lot more frequent, I think, and it’s difficult to miss all but the subtlest, so long as you’re not distracted by iMDb and where you’ve seen that actor before.

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers is a masterclass of the slow reveal. Told with two alternating view points – first from one of the key players, leading up to the big incident, then one from an outsider, looking in on the carnage after the fact, trying to decipher the clues – the reader is dropped straight into two mounting scenarios, both with the same reveal. What really happened on the 15th January?

I suspect this may be a lady mystery...

I suspect this may be a lady book…

The first narrator is Amber Fraser, darling of Lime Park Road, incandescent beauty and reformed bad-girl. She’s retired to the suburbs with her silver-fox husband and the intention of reincarnating herself as a loving wife and mother to her as yet un-conceived children. But old habits die hard, and pretty soon she falls back into her old habits.

“My name is Amber Fraser. I’ve just moved into number 40, Lime Park Road. You’ll come to think of me as a loving wife, a thoughtful neighbour and a trusted friend.

This is a lie.”

The second is the more relatable Christy Davenport, who can’t believe her luck when she and her husband manage to afford – at a steal – a newly renovated house on one of the most sought-after roads in London. Yet saddled with spiralling debt and much more free time than she’d like, Christy finds herself drawn into the mystery of why her predecessors left, and what precisely happened to make her bear-like neighbour deserving of the censure of the entire street.

What Candlish has done, which I admire hugely and hope I’ve learned from, is drip feed the reader with just enough information- so we think we know what’s going on, but never really do until the end. The pacing was such that I raced through this book, desperate to find out the big secret and to see if the vague ideas I had could possibly be true.

And having finished the book half an hour ago, I feel… deeply satisfied. Often with books which whip the reader up into a spiral of guessing and intrigue, the twist is disappointing and mediocre (or it’s magic, in a universe where magic was never even hinted at, and then the book gets thrown hard and far, and maligned to all who dare mention its name before me.) Yet this? It made perfect sense. And the manipulative twisting of other people’s lives was elegant, in so far as such a thing can be, and as I say, deeply, deeply satisfying.

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers is a sophisticated soap-opera – and I mean that in the best possible way. The high drama of the every day, which builds into a shocking, life-shattering conclusion. We care about these people – and I mean Christy, the fish out of water who has lost her whole identity of self, and tries to find it in that of her idealised predecessor – because we can relate. Less so the rich and beautiful Amber, who wants for nothing but still looks for more, and less so – for me at least – the well-to-do mummies of Lime Park Road. And I am a sucker for stories about manipulative and powerful women – and Amber baby is certainly one of those.

“Personally, I’d never doubted for a moment that women were the more dangerous sex; their interest in others was far sharper than men’s, which made their suspicions more intelligent.”

This was a recommendation from a colleague at the day job, and all through reading it I have been recommending it to all and sundry, with a vigour I usually reserve until after I’ve finished, just in case it’s one of those disappointments. But no – Louise Candlish is now going on my auto-buy list. Highly recommended!

Have you read this, or any other books with a masterful handling of “the reveal”? I’d love to hear what you think!

And if you haven’t read it, you can find The Sudden Departure of the Frasers here on amazon.co.uk.