Watching You

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Thank you to Atria Books for providing me with a copy of Lisa Jewell’s latest novel, Watching You, in exchange for an honest review.

A brutal murder has taken place in one of the beautiful Victorian home in the affluent Melville Heights neighborhood in Bristol, England. In acclaimed novelist Lisa Jewell’s latest crime novel, Watching You, the reader quickly realizes that there are as many suspects, as there are potential victims and we will not know the truth of the situation until the final moments of the story.

I’ve read several of Jewell’s previous novels and she is simply a master at writing crime fiction. This is not a genre that I often read, yet I am thrilled every time she publishes a new book, because I know that I will love it. Watching You is no exception. Jewell knows exactly how to pace her novels to keep readers engaged. She always has a twist that is unexpected, yet makes perfect sense when you rethink through the hints that she has been cleverly dropping throughout the entire novel. At the very start of Watching You, we are told that a murder has taken place and we know that one of the characters is being questioned as a suspect, yet we do not know the murder victim until the last chapters of the novel. It’s brilliant.

More than a crime novel, Watching You is a solid drama. Jewell’s characters are having affairs, teenagers navigating first love, and families in crisis. The drama is as equally important as the crime element. I feel that this is a strong reason for why I gravitate towards Jewell’s novels. She has rich, well-rounded characters who are facing difficult situations. The crime element ups the stakes and intensifies their troubles, but it is not the root or only cause of tension in the story. Jewell’s characters are complex and troubled, even if murder wasn’t on their street.

Watching You is creepy. It has themes of power and dominance, especially through the character of Tom Fitzwilliam, a school headmaster in his early 50’s. Tom has a history of showing attention to young women. He’s charismatic and someone that women, young and old, tend to crush on. Throughout the entire story, we never quite know if Tom is a villain or victim. Is he a predator or misunderstood? The character of Tom reminded me of one of my college professors, who lost his career for predatory behavior. I never had an inappropriate situation with him, but I did get swept up by his charisma and when he was very publicly fired, it was both a shock and not a shock at all. I kept imagining this professor, every time Tom was on the page.

Culpability is a theme throughout Watching You. The recently married Joey Mullens, Tom’s neighbor, is enchanted by Tom and has an affair with him. She knows that she bears blame for this decision, yet she can’t help but focus on Tom’s power over her, as if she is possessed. Another character is confronted with her extreme bullying behavior as a teenager. Many decades have passed, but she never took responsibility and now her past has come back to haunt her. As the title implies, we are all being watched and cannot hide from our sins.

Watching You is a page turner and I was enthralled until the last word. I think this might just be my favorite Jewell novel yet.

Millard Salter’s Last Day

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Thank you to Gallery Books for providing me with a copy of Jacob M. Appel’s novel, Millard Salter’s Last Day, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- Psychiatrist Millard Salter has decided to kill himself. The love of his life has recently died after an illness and he fears the idea of growing old with the possibility of having a disease or needing assistance. He feels that he has lived enough life and plans to hang himself, while things are still good. With this plan in mind, he spends his last couple of days tying up loose ends. He tries to wrap things up at work and visits with his ex-wife and adult children. He soon learns that leaving might not be as easy as he had anticipated.

LIKE- It took me time to get into the pacing and rhythm of Millard Salter’s Last Day, but as soon as I did (last third of the story,) I felt swept away. Appel has created a complicated protagonist in Salter and I felt the weight of his worries and sorrows. Through his characters, Appel makes a strong argument for the need to have assisted suicide and speaks to the trauma of watching a loved one battle through a terminal disease. Salter helps a loved on with assisted suicide, which is described in detail.

Although Salter is a lauded psychiatrist, his fears and depression create a situation where he justifies ending his life.  I suppose the argument could be made that people should have the freedom to live their lives ( or end their lives) as they see fit, at any stage, but I felt the overriding theme of Millard Salter’s Last Day is that Salter’s life should not end. His judgement is clouded. The worst of it, is none of the other doctor’s at the hospital where he works, even notice that something is wrong. They are too busy trying to get ahead in their careers and dealing with office politics. Salter’s family doesn’t notice either. It’s a sad and unfortunate situation all around, a commentary on how isolated people can feel and how blind we can all be to the suffering of others.

DISLIKEMillard Salter’s Last Day is pitched as a book similar to Frederik Backman’s novel, A Man Called Ove. They deal with similar themes; like Salter, Ove is hell-bent on killing himself and finds the leaving process to be more difficult than anticipated. However, that’s where the similarities end. Backman’s novel has humor and light to breakup the heavy theme. Ove undergoes a huge transformation, where as Salter stays the same. Salter’s weak story arc, my primary issue with the story.

I had compassion for Salter, but I found him to be a difficult character to stay with for an entire novel. I couldn’t read Millard Salter’s Last Day, without reading several other books at the same time. As such, it took me over a month to read, when it should have taken a day or two. As I mentioned previously, it didn’t grab me until the last third, the first two-thirds were sluggish.

RECOMMEND– Probably not. Millard Salter’s Last Day is heavy. Salter is a solid character, but he  doesn’t have a solid story.