by Louise Jensen
‘I am still wrestling to be free as I am dragged, my feet scraping the ground, but I’m losing the fight ….. I know they’ll never let us leave here now. Not alive anyway.’
Not to be confused with Mario Puzo’s splendid novel with the same title, Louise Jensen’s fifth psychological thriller is a tour de force of a very different kind. Every bit as twisty as her earlier stories, it centres on two women who have been traumatised by the sudden death of a husband and father. Set in rural Wales, The Family is narrated mainly from two first person points of view, those of mother and daughter Laura and Tilly.
Laura’s husband Gavan, a builder, has fallen from the scaffolding at one of his properties, leaving her in financial difficulties. Her florist business is failing and she is about to lose her home. The life insurance company won’t pay out until an enquiry is concluded into Gavan’s death. Moreover, from the outset, we get the feeling there are other secrets from Laura’s past contributing to her problems and anxieties. Tilly (Matilda), Laura’s seventeen-year-old daughter is also suffering from anxiety. Her former friends at school, including her cousin Rhiannon are shunning her. One of the girls has died of cancer and her parents blame Gavan for selling them a house on what they believe is contaminated land.
One day, Laura meets Saffron, a young woman from Oak Leaf Organics, a reclusive, self-sufficient community living on an isolated farm, Gorphwysfa. Saffron proposes that Laura and Tilly join the community, which is led by the handsome, charismatic Alex.
‘I shivered as I fumbled for my phone. There could be spiders. Rats.’
Gorphwysfa seems to be the answer to Laura’s problems, especially when Alex offers her legal advice and help. So Laura and Tilly take up the offer and move into the farm. Tilly is immediately captivated by Alex and is, apparently, desired in return. However, before long, unpleasant and disturbing things start to happen. Phones go missing and dead animals turn up where they shouldn’t be. There are suspicious bloodstains on the floor of one of the barns.
As Tilly grows ever closer to Alex, Laura begins to suspect a sinister motive behind his friendliness. Is something – something evil – going on behind the innocuous facade or are the strange happenings all in Laura’s head, figments of her imagination? Then a young woman dies and Laura is attacked, leaving us in little doubt that the evil is real. But the question now is who, and why?
‘Alex was magnetic but it wasn’t only me he was attracting. I wasn’t the only one willing to kill for him. Willing to die for him.’
Louise Jensen is a mistress of suspense and keeps us guessing until near the end. The truth about the characters and their guilty secrets are released in little packets, a technique which often sends the reader down the wrong twisty path. The Family is a scary novel, though not in any horrific or supernatural sense. A murder or two apart, it deals with everyday events and human problems which have a resolution if only we could see it sooner. The clues are there. As in the gothic novel, the writer’s skill lies in using “atmosphere” to distract the reader from the everyday by means of the unusual and seemingly inexplicable.
Somewhat reminiscent of Ruth Rendell’s psychological mysteries – those she wrote as Barbara Vine – The Family is a novel to be enjoyed on a cold, damp and dark winter night. Times like these are when psychology works best!