A book appears on your bedside table. You can’t remember where it comes from. You begin to read it. Soon, it becomes apparent that this story is about you, about your deepest, darkest secret. The names may have been changed but you are the main character.
For 20 years Catherine Ravenscroft, an award-winning documentary producer, has buried an incident that she kept from everyone, including her husband and son. But as she turns the pages of a book called, A Perfect Stranger, she is sickened to realise that the world is about to discover something she believed would stay hidden forever. Inside the book, the eerie words “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental”, has a red line through it.
The book tells the story of Charlotte, a woman who strikes up an affair with a young man while on holiday in Spain. Charlotte is married, with a young child. Bored with looking after her five-year old, and angry that her husband left their vacation early for a work assignment, she seduces the 19-year old John, who is backpacking through Europe, trying to ‘discover’ himself. Charlotte preys on John, using him to alleviate the monotony and irritation of trying to keep her son occupied. When John drowns trying to save the little boy, Charlotte pretends he was a stranger, and she returns home without telling anyone the ‘truth’.
Disclaimer jumps between the present (2013), in which Catherine receives the book, and two years before, to the man who has published the novel in search of revenge: the somewhat deranged Stephen Brigstocke, whose son Jonathan drowned two decades ago.
British author Renee Knight masterfully keeps the tension running throughout her debut novel, until the gut-punching denouement, with a twist that leaves you reeling. It’s one of the best crime novels of the year so far.
Knight joins a group of strong female thriller-writers, who have smashed their way to the top of the charts. Disclaimer is being compared to Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Gone Girl, but can also be likened to Paula Hawkins’ recent runaway success, The Girl on the Train, and Knight certainly doesn’t have to stand back.
“She looks at it lying there face down and still open where she left it. The book she trusted. Its first few chapters had lulled her into complacency, made her feel at ease with just the hint of a mild thrill to come, a little something to keep her reading, but no clue to what was lying in wait. It beckoned her on, lured her into its pages, further and further until she realized she was trapped. Then words ricocheted around her brain and slammed into her chest, one after another. It was as if a queue of people had jumped in front of a train and she, the helpless driver, was powerless to prevent the fatal collision. It was too late to put the brakes on. There was no going back. Catherine had unwittingly stumbled across herself tucked into the pages of the book”.
Rating: 4½ out of 5
Published by Penguin Random House South Africa.
Available from Loot.co.za for R209