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The Apartment Upstairs

THE APARTMENT UPSTAIRS . . . Between the covers

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Author Lesley Kara returns to the world she excels in describing – the apparently mundane suburban milieu where the streets and houses  serve as a  stage where families and friends act out a drama riddled with lies, secrets and deception.

Scarlett Quilter, a forty-something accountant, lives in the ground floor apartment of a suburban London house. She has a debilitating illness but is able to work from home. The titular ‘apartment upstairs’ was once occupied by her aunt, Rebecca, a former school teacher. Rebecca made a wrong romantic choice late in life by forming a relationship with a man called Clive Hamlin. Hamlin murdered Rebecca, and then committed suicide, so we know from the start that the apartment upstairs has deeply sinister connotations for Scarlett, as well as for her younger brother Ollie (who has inherited the house) and her father, Peter.

The Quilters have entrusted Rebecca’s funeral arrangements with a firm called Fond Farewells, which is run by Dee Boswell and her business partner Lindsay. Dee and Lindsay had a shared friend called Gina Caplin, who mysteriously disappeared ten years earlier, and they have both supported a campaign to find out the truth about what happened to their friend.

All is not sweetness and light between Dee and Lindsay. Lindsay has abused the trust placed in her by the friend of a dead man – think treasured possessions and eBay. She is caught out but manages to placate the grieving customer in a way which leaves Dee fuming. The contrast between the two women is cleverly drawn. Lindsay is more confident, perhaps even reckless and, in contrast to Dee, is knowingly certain of her sexuality.

When Scarlett discovers that her late aunt was connected to the missing girl, Gina, things start to get interesting. Lesley Kara lays a trail of particularly juicy red herrings which include the possibility that the truth about Gina’s disappearance might lie very close to Scarlett’s home, in a ‘Fred West patio’ kind of way.

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Lesley Kara always enjoys directing her readers up the proverbial garden path in terms of plot, and here she serves up a couple of turns which are more like double somersaults than twists. The clues are there for more suspicious readers, but they are far from obvious.

The Apartment Upstairs is a dark journey into a world where a violation of trust is made even worse because it is happening between close friends and family members.  It is published by Bantam Press and is available now. For more on Lesley Kara, click on the image (below)

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Kara & Rickman

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Two cracking new hardbacks arrived last week, one written by Lesley Kara, whose previous four domestic psychological thrillers have all been best-sellers and, the other by a writer who has created one of the most original amateur detectives that I have encountered. It has been five years since we had a Merrily Watkins novel from Phil Rickman, but now he brings her back in The Fever of the World.

THE APARTMENT UPSTAIRS by Lesley Kara

Screen Shot 2022-05-24 at 19.03.43Lesley Kara (left) specialises in creating tension between ordinary people in humdrum surroundings – in other words, normal circumstances experienced by the vast majority of us. I reviewed her excellent debut novel The Rumour, and her new book is centred around – as the name suggests – a murder that took place above Scarlett’s flat. The victim was her aunt, and as Scarlett tries to live as normal a life as possible with such a terrible event – almost literally – hanging over her head, it is up to her to make the funeral arrangements for her relative. As she does so, she meets Dee, the funeral director. Dee has problems of her own, but an unexpected link binds the two women together, and both are now in terrible danger. The Apartment Upstairs will be published by Bantam Press on 23rd June.

THE FEVER OF THE WORLD by Phil Rickman

Screen Shot 2022-05-24 at 19.07.31For the uninitiated, Merrily Watkins is a single mum, and vicar of a village in Herefordshire. She also serves as Diocesan Deliverance Consultant – aka an exorcist. The series began in 1998 with The Wine of Angels, and seemed to have terminated rather abruptly with All of a Winter’s Night in 2017. A new book titled For The Hell of It was billed to come out in 2020, but this seems to have been reimagined as The Fever of the World. Here, Merrily becomes involved in a murder investigation led by local copper David Vaynor who, in a previous life, was an expert in the poetry of William Wordsworth. Aficionados of the work of Wordsworth may well recognise the provenance of the book’s title, taken from the poem composed on the banks of the River Wye near Tintern Abbey:

“In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart.”

My appreciation of the Merrily Watkins novels is here, and I am anxious to see what has become of the  repertory company of characters Rickman (above right) used in the earlier novels. The book is published by Atlantic Books, and will be out on 16th June.

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