Marital infidelity, drug addiction, house swapping, stalking, and a surprise ending add up to a psychologically suspenseful story in British novelist Fleet's U.S. debut.
When Caroline and Francis set out from their home in Leeds, they're already struggling to repair their troubled 15-year marriage. Their destination is a house in Chiswick, a London suburb, where they're doing a one-week house swap. As they settle into the sparsely furnished loaner house, Caroline finds pink roses and other things that remind her of a passionate extramarital affair she had two years earlier with Carl, a co-worker eight years her junior. Caroline soon suspects that her house-swap partner, S. Kennedy, is actually Carl and that her peculiar and intrusive Chiswick neighbor Amber may be a co-conspirator. Two timelines, stretching from 2012 to 2015, intersect to reveal why Carl ended the affair with Caroline, who S. Kennedy really is, and why S. Kennedy has gone to such extreme lengths to torment Caroline with reminders of Carl. The premise stretches believability, and why Caroline doesn't flee the Chiswick house is never adequately explained. Nor is it clear why she remains married to a man she dislikes or why he sticks it out with her when he knows she's guilty of more than infidelity. The unmasking of S. Kennedy spins the plot off on a tangent, multiple coincidences and contrivances undercut the story's credibility, and the denouement is unsatisfying as Caroline gets handed easy ways out of her problems. The story has some creepy and subtle moments, but their effect is diluted by an uneven pace, one-dimensional characters (all of whom are unhappy), and a gratuitous threat to Caroline and Francis' 4-year-old son.
While this mediocre thriller may provide a fix for some die-hard fans of domestic noir, most readers will be disappointed.