Friday, 27 March 2015

A Line of Blood by Ben McPherson

Reviewer: Rebecca Johnson

What we thought: A gripping psychological thriller set in Finsbury Park, London. The plot is centred around the impact of a neighbour’s death and the fallout from an affair. The lies and secrets that are uncovered in the investigation tear Alex Mercer’s family apart. This compelling, spare, and ultimately devastating tale kept me hooked right up until the final reveal.

Alex, his wife Millicent and their 11-year old son Max are a normal London family. Normal that is until Alex and his son find their neighbour electrocuted in his bath. From then on, Alex, obsessed with protecting his child from the psychological impact of what he has seen, and discovering his wife knew the neighbour a little too well, enters a nightmarish world of accusations, lies, guilt and betrayal as the past is re-examined, secrets are exposed and the layers of certainty peel away one by one.

Told entirely from Alex’s point of view, this novel is as compulsive as they come. It’s a long time since I wanted to read a book in a single sitting yet I found I could not lift my eyes from the page. Revelation by revelation, Alex’s world - his tribe, as he thinks of his family - his marriage and almost his sanity are ripped to pieces by the unfolding murder investigation. The way in which all the things which Alex believes about himself and the people he loves are dismantled is subtle and sensitively written. The focus here is on family and love, from a man’s point of view, and McPherson compellingly explores father-son relationships, and exposes the ultimate unknowable mystery of another person and their secrets, even if you are married to them, or are their parent or their child. It is also about the fragility of everything that matters: relationships, stability, love, emotional endurance, community, innocence. All are threatened here. No one is spared.

The blurb calls this novel from first-time author Ben McPherson a ‘psychological thriller about family’, yet this seems to underplay many of the undercurrents of A Line of Blood. McPherson is acutely observant and often wry about London life, about childhood, even about cats (the family cat plays an important role). The novel deals compellingly with trauma and its effects not only throughout the lives of individuals but in the way it can be passed on from parent to child and the repercussions for the entire family. One aspect of the story explores the impact of a miscarriage or still-birth on both parents (and the earlier child), which I found tremendously moving and is a rare subject to find in any novel, let alone one written by and narrated by a man. There were also insights about emotional fragility and recovery, the way we grow through previous relationships to understand what love means, and about the impact of war on families. The characters are strong and the elements of the novel are complex and finely and intelligently woven together to draw the plot to its shocking and resonant conclusion.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Gone Girl, Before I Go To Sleep, inner London, Norway, cats, domestic dramas told from a man’s perspective.

Avoid if you don’t like: staying up all night reading, strong language.

Ideal accompaniments: coffee, cigarettes, Ribena and crisps (and don’t forget to feed the cat.)

Genre: crime, psychological thriller

Available from Amazon

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