Everyone has their secrets. Some secrets are darker than others. Some secrets are thought to be safer than others. But sometimes, someone is watching you. Once known as a writer of “chick lit,” Lisa Jewell is now a master of suspense, creating characters and communities that seem as real as the ones down the street from you. Her latest novel, “Watching You,” is both moody and poignant.
The trademark of the picturesque Melville Heights, an upper middle-class section of Bristol, is a row of rainbow-hued Victorian houses. Joey, a young newlywed, lives in the cobalt blue one with her brother and pregnant sister-in-law. Freddie, the teenaged son of the head of the local school, lives in the yellow one across the street. Teenage Jenna Tripp and her mother live on the same street. The novel alternates points of view of these three characters, and is interspersed with police interviews and diary entries of a young girl from twenty years ago. From the opening scene, it is revealed that there has been a murder in this idyllic neighborhood. The rest of the story leads up, in a slow-burn style, to “Who,” and perhaps more importantly, “Why?”
A cast of intriguing characters is introduced, including Tom Fitzwilliam, head of the local public school, father of Freddie, husband of Nikki, and crush of married Joey. He is intelligent and charismatic, drawing the admiration and attention of everyone from the young teenage girls at the school where he works to Joey’s heart surgeon older brother Jack. But Joey can’t keep her gaze from across the street off of him, and it seems the esteemed family man and community pillar may have a dark side.
Another layered character is Jenna’s mother whose deteriorating mental health, obsession with the phenomena of “gang stalking,” and exacerbated paranoia mean she is constantly watching people in her neighborhood, and convinced they are watching her right back. The interesting thing is, she may be right.
Jenna’s best friend seems to be heading for trouble nursing her own schoolgirl crush and desire to fit in. Jenna keeps an eye on her, but through social media and location apps.
Freddie is the most obvious “watcher,” coming close to outright stalking. Socially inept and emotionally troubled, he takes solace in using his high-tech surveillance equipment to creepily observe the females in his neighborhood from the shadows of his attic.
Diary entries from decades ago detail a schoolgirl crush possibly taking a dark turn and leading to danger for the writer.
The questions surrounding the crime are, of course, compelling, but the characters are rich and nuanced and are what really makes the book so gripping. The concept of being “watched” is an interesting one to explore, especially in this era of technology and social media. Secrets may not be so easy to keep anymore.
For a tense, suspenseful read with a twisty conclusion, pick up the darkly charming Watching You.
Jenna Beers is a Circulation Assistant at the Graham Public Library and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.