A calamitous accident is followed by an even more unsettling event in this sixth helping of psychological suspense from Joss (Half Broken Things, 2005, etc.).
Minutes after discovering that her husband, a Wiltshire anesthesiologist, is cheating on her, the nameless narrator, professing that the end of her marriage really doesn’t matter, inadvertently runs over a bicyclist and kills her. Leaving her victim, retired teacher Ruth Mitchell, in the road and driving off is cruel enough to her but even crueler to Ruth’s husband Arthur. Disconnected and disoriented, Arthur begins writing letters to his dead wife at the suggestion of a friend, and the correspondence takes on a disturbing life of its own when he begins to seek some sign of her everywhere, including in their house and garden, and in The Cold and the Beauty and the Dark, the unfinished novel she’d been writing. As Ruth’s novel-within-a-novel unfolds, the story of Evelyn Ashworth’s betrayal first by her husband and then by his uncle between 1932 and 1956, it gradually becomes clear both that her characters are more solid and substantial, albeit less nuanced, than Joss’s own, and that the two sets of characters have some definite connection. Arthur, withdrawing from the well-intentioned neighbors determined to comfort him over his most violent objections, searches more and more urgently for that connection. Meantime, Ruth’s accidental killer, drawn by motives deeper and more obscure than mere remorse, takes to watching Arthur’s house and insinuating herself into it, taking the place of the woman whose life she ended. Joss’s exploration of her loners’ doomed attempts to reach outside themselves will remind readers of Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters, but her pathology is even more elliptical.
Joss begins her psychological vivisection where other suspense novelists leave off. The results are extraordinary.