The fourth book of fiction by Perkins (Leave Before You Go, 2000, etc.) is a smart, scary combination of neo-Gothic and comedy of manners, set in contemporary London.
Ann, a maker of plaster medical molds, and her husband Tom, a struggling screenwriter, have just moved into a house in a scruffy but up-and-coming neighborhood. Ann, pregnant with their first child, seems manic and eccentric of late. But Tom, who’s fighting his own battles with prospective fatherhood, a faltering career and looming poverty (of the bourgeois kind), attributes the changes in her—a fridge full of foul-smelling herbal remedies, frenzies of organizing and redecorating, the tendency to see pests and vermin everywhere, web searches about ghosts—to hormonal swings and to their new, slightly dodgy surroundings. The most sinister manifestation of trouble is the skinny, shaggy man who seems to be following Ann. She spots this hooded figure at the hospital where she works, lingering in the street before the house, even in the back garden—and Tom’s anxiety for her is only heightened when, trapped at a park gate while jogging, he’s mugged by a band of toughs. Gradually he comes to realize that the elusive menace—no one else ever sees him—may be a figment of his wife’s imaginings. The reader learns early on that Ann is dead, and the book—hence its title—is a retrospective attempt to make sense of her end. Perkins grants her bereaved narrator a bitter, plain-spoken colloquial voice, and the book provides great psychological acuteness and mordant humor. But the apparatus can be clumsy, especially the intercut typescript scenes from the disastrous trip to Fiji on which Tom and Ann were married. And Tom withholds a crucial fillip of information about Ann’s past for a dramatic effect that seems a wee bit cheap.
Not perfect, but pungently observed, suspenseful and often funny.