A telephone call from a dead woman, the phenomenon of “lucid dreaming,” and a skillfully maintained atmosphere of increasing menace are the main ingredients of South African writer Mostert’s unusual debut thriller.
After receiving the aforementioned phone call, Isabelle “Isa” De Witt, initially unaware of its significance, travels to London to find herself the heir of her late cousin Alette Temple, killed in an automobile accident. A request from beyond the grave obliges Isa, ever deferential to Alette (who had once literally saved her life), to carry out an elaborate revenge plot directed at the pharmaceutical company of which Justin, Alette’s charismatic and sinister former husband (he’s “rich and looks like Heathcliff”) is the vulnerable CEO. Mostert ratchets up suspense efficiently, exploring Isa’s wavering fidelity to her task (as her own grief over the recent death of her married lover erodes her resistance to Justin’s charms), while simultaneously focusing on other involved characters—notably, the unidentified stalker who’s closer to Isa than she imagines. The plotline is an original one, and Mostert seasons it with absorbing psychological detail (for example, the possibility that people who are unusually close may experience “shared dreams”), in swiftly paced chapters appropriately prefaced by resonant quotations drawn mostly from the 17th-century English metaphysical poets (Keats creeps in at the end). Isa does—in the infuriating manner of those brainless heroines of Gothic romance who will persist in opening the wrong doors—keep putting herself in harm’s way. And the identity of the villain is ineptly concealed; in fact, halfway through, there’s virtually no doubting it. Nevertheless, the novel holds our interest throughout, and its climactic surprise—which occurs after Isa has returned, with Alette’s ashes, to South Africa—is a humdinger.
Too bad the young Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant aren’t around to star in the film version. How about Julianne Moore and Daniel Day Lewis ?