An academic partnership turns sour in this tense and moody thriller.
Professor Olivia Sweetman has it all: a happy family life with her husband and three children and a career on the rise as both an academic and popular historian frequently appearing on television. When she hears about a Victorian diary—containing a scandalous confession—written by one of the first women doctors, she knows she’s found the topic for her first book. The diary, however, comes with a catch—a relationship with Vivian Tester, the woman who discovered it. Vivian is brilliant but mysterious and has a very different way of seeing the world than Olivia. She's an extremely competent researcher, and she and Olivia enter into a working relationship. As their work progresses, though, their relationship becomes increasingly fraught; both women keep secrets from the other, revealed to the reader in alternating chapters either narrated by Vivian in first person or from Olivia’s point of view in third. Author Atkins (The Other Child, 2016, etc.) peppers every page with hints of things unsaid and dark underlying secrets. Sometimes the foreshadowing is a little overdone and heavy-handed, but it does not take away from the incredible number of twists and turns that appear as the novel stalks toward its ending. There’s a ghost haunting the story, both literally and metaphorically, and that sense of unease keeps pushing all the way to the last, intense pages. A reckoning is coming, but why? The need to know what will happen when the inescapable comes to pass drives the reader ever forward even as a sense of dread pervades the narrative. Things must end, but they won’t end well.
With shades of Rebecca and The Secret History, Atkins has produced an eerie page-turner that will have readers guessing from the first.