The House on the Cliff

house on the cliffThe House on the Cliff
by Charlotte Williams
Published by Bourbon Street Books
352 pages
Genre: mystery 
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5

Welsh therapist Jessica Mayhew has achieved some professional success. Her practice is established, she has a steady flow of clients, and she helps them. Her personal life, though, is a different story. Her husband has confessed to a one-night fling, and Jessica struggles with forgiving him. Every time she starts to do so, she can’t escape the vision of his cheating.

They have two teenage daughters, the older of which, Nella, is every bit as cooperative and docile as you’d expect from a sixteen-year-old. Jessica struggles there, too. She wants to control Nella, but she knows she can’t. When Nella decides to try her hand at singing, Jessica aches to protect her, even as Nella rebuffs her at every turn.

Into Jessica’s office walks Gwydion Morgan, an up and coming star. Gwydion is stricken with a quirky phobia: he’s terrified of buttons. And as he is on the cusp of a period drama, he needs to find a way to manage his terrors. He also has a recurring dream in which he’s locked in a box and hears his parents – or at least his father – arguing.

This sets Jessica on a course of inquiry that surprises her at every turn. She is not the type of person to investigate a potential crime, but something about an au pair who drowned when Gwydion was a boy compels her to find resolution.

At the same time, she is equally as drawn to Gwydion himself. He’s younger, and he’s attracted to her. But is her interest in him genuine or is it retaliatory?

There were good things in this book, chiefly the sub plot involving Nella. That one is better developed than the au pair mystery, the resolution of which you will see coming long before Jessica does. Her ambivalence toward her marriage is believable, and there is a very real moment when she wonders if a man’s sexual interest in Nella bothers her more because of Nella’s age or because she’s jealous.

But the central mystery is a bust, largely because there is no mystery. You can figure out who did it pretty early on, which makes all of Jessica’s wrong assumptions somewhat frustrating. Jessica herself is not the easiest person to like, although when she shows vulnerability – especially with Gwydion – she becomes easier to cheer for. There is a sort of sub mystery entailing Jessica’s husband that is a head scratcher. It goes nowhere and is nothing other than a diversion.

I wanted to like this book more than I did, let’s just put it that way. I think Charlotte Williams could be a better writer than this indicates.

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