The whodunnit, though, is off-centre for much of a book that’s more psychological study than psychological thriller. Reminiscent of Virago Classics and Alan Bennett monologues, it’s an accomplished and addictive addition to the great British tradition of spinster fiction, and Verity — perceptive about many things, blind to others — could well turn out to be as rich a portrait as in any novel this year.
Durrant gently reveals her delicate exploration of damaged relationships, fragile friendships, missed potential, and what happens when ambition governs the way you treat others. Her rendering of Verity’s character is particularly good: eccentric or evil? Kind or calculating? The ambiguity is lightly and intriguingly seeded, and, while for my taste the final pages are a little overcooked, this is an absorbing, classy read to keep you guessing.
We learn early on from Durrant’s narrator, Verity, that Ailsa’s husband Tom is dead. And that he’s died rather gruesomely, suffocating after eating the hemlock that had been included with his dinner. “A fairytale couple, the Suncalled them, and he was a handsome man, Tom Tilson, with foppish dark-brown hair, a broad jaw and blue eyes.” Ailsa is under investigation for his murder, and she’s staying meanwhile with Verity, her neighbour and friend. Verity is our guide to this journey, and she’s an extremely intriguing one, slowly unpeeling the layers to reveal her own dark past... An intelligent, twisty psychological thriller.