Book Review: The Other People

Driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl’s face appear in the rear window. She mouths one word: ‘Daddy.’ It’s his five-year-old daughter, Izzy.

He never sees her again.

Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights traveling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Izzy is dead.

Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them. Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe’s daughter.

Then, the car that Gabe saw driving away that night is found, in a lake, with a body inside and Gabe is forced to confront events, not just from the night his daughter disappeared, but from far deeper in his past.

His search leads him to a group called The Other People.

If you have lost a loved one, The Other People want to help. Because they know what loss is like. They know what pain is like. They know what death is like.

There’s just one problem . . . they want other people to know it too.

CJ Tudor’s fourth standalone novel, “The Other People” is nothing short of a thrilling, unputdownable mystery fiction that deftly reflects on circumstances and tragedies in relation to one’s frame of reference on death and revenge.  Gabe, Tudor’s main character, is presented as a father who had years to deal with the unfathomable loss of his wife and daughter. But Gabe had not come to terms with his daughter Izzy’s death just as yet. He stood by what he saw the night of the murder: Izzy’s face, with an unmistakable tooth missing in front, surfaced in a beat-up car just in front of Gabe while driving along the M1 motorway. He knew what he saw, believed it, and acted upon it with all the desperate hope a father always has for his child– holding on the belief that his daughter is alive and he will do whatever it takes to get her back.  

A story about a father’s undoing by what he believed was caused by his costly miscalculations, “The Other People” gives an insight into coping with grief and loss burdened by guilt and revenge.  Similar to another thriller novel, “The Kill Club” by Wendy Heard, Tudor has also fabricated a sinister underground organization hired to exact revenge founded on the Old Testament biblical justification: “an eye for an eye” on quid pro quo terms.

Layered with multiple narratives, Tudor has expertly presented each character’s backstory in well-structured chapters reaching mini-climaxes here and there, ending with suspenseful dialogues and cliffhangers.  The plot’s dramatic tension a stark reminder of why thriller novels serve to delight readers of the genre despite its taxing nature. I was unquestionably hooked from the beginning–how Tudor ably introduced her characters individually until the readers get to piece the events together, revealing how they were all connected by circumstances.  But the plot promises more than just another nail-biting bootless errand; not just another mystery to solve but one that appends a paranormal side story to contend with.

However, what started out as a brilliant atmospheric plot catapulted into an upsetting ending.  The build-up toward an intriguing plot twist was palpable and gripping yet, it was the novel’s ending that I found least convincing. What made up for the plot’s “thriller and suspense” facet, went downhill due to its lackluster depiction of the supernatural storyline: the paranormal connection between Alice and the girl she sees in the mirror.  The big reveal somehow failed to justify the atmospheric tension built on a purportedly solid premise. Despite being brilliant in many ways, this novel left me with a nagging feeling of being shortchanged. I was mostly geared toward the supernatural aspect of the story but the tasteless and rushed denouement of that part of the story failed to have upped the ante otherwise, it would have been a perfect thriller novel.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Author: C.J Tudor

Genre: Thriller / Mystery / Horror

Length: 327 pages

Publisher: January 28th 2020 by Ballantine Books

ISBN-10: 1984824996

ISBN-13: 978-1984824998

Book Review: The Broken Girls

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced.

Where do I even begin?

I have always been fascinated by any piece of literature that involves horror or paranormal themes be it in films or novels.  There is something quite ghoulishly appealing in spine-tingling supernatural elements that no matter how much you dread watching or reading the scary parts, you just can’t seem to stop. 

Simone St. James’ novel, “The Broken Girls”, immediately hit the ranks reserved for novels I’ve mostly anticipated but did not disappoint.  I have known about this book when I began my search for horror-based genre novels and came across this gem highly recommended. There is more to this novel than just its brilliant interplay between Gothic elements and the mysterious trail of whodunit.  St. James was able to craft a narrative that depicts horror, mystery, history, and social injustices such as racism, corruption, the Nazi concentration camps, and unresolved murder cases. The result: a five-star novel that is hard to put down and even more difficult to part with.

The story unfolds with a prologue, establishing the plot’s context, setting off the dark and sinister atmosphere of the novel. It embarks on the usual trail of horror and mystery books plotted using dual timelines and alternating third-person POVs, meant to suspend and thrill the readers of what’s to happen next, perfectly dispersing out the clues until the puzzle is complete. St. James crafted this novel to combine a period piece and a modern-day setting, intelligently contrasting human behaviors in relation to the culture and environment at the time. The novel’s central plot may be about the mysteries surrounding two separate murders committed decades apart but St. James offers her readers a lot more to reflect on.  

I believe one of the reasons why readers are drawn to ghost stories is to dig into the infernal past of why such ghosts, eerie presence, and malevolent beings haunt the living, depicted in various origins since varying cultures first existed. Readers are drawn to the genre–to understand why ghosts exist–why they continue to haunt one’s dreams and feed on one’s fears–or if they are real or are simply the conjuring of the human mind. 

In her novel, “The Broken Girls”, St. James has masterfully created a suspense thriller fused with paranormal elements but these tropes are mere literary tools to expose the dangers of human faculties acting on pride, greed, and anger. It exposes human fragility and how brokenness either leads the way to redemption or toward self-destruction. The Idlewild Hall symbolizes an abyss where people can simply dump their sins away; where dark secrets are buried, left to rot and decay. It is a story of survival and the need to find closure when others seemed to have forgotten and laid to rest. Haunting and sad, but generously strengthened by the powerful force of love, friendship, and revenge, “The Broken Girls” is a masterfully written novel that encompasses varying fiction genres heralding Simone St. James as one of the greatest novelists of our time.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Simone St. James

Genre: Ghost Thriller/Horror Fiction

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Berkley; Book Club (BCE/BOMC) edition (March 20, 2018)

ISBN-10: 0451476204

ISBN-13: 978-0451476203