We all have our secrets. Eleanor Rathmell has kept one her whole life. But when her husband dies and a stranger arrives at her door, her safe life in the idyllic English village she’s chosen as her home begins to topple.
Everyone is suspicious of this stranger, except for Eleanor. But her trust in him will put her life in danger, because nothing is as it seems; not her dead husband, the man who claims to love her, or the inscrutable outsider to whom she’s opened her home and her heart.
I was really looking forward to reading The Stranger – not just because I had enjoyed the other book I had read by Sarginson (Without You) but because the opening, which I used for last week’s Tuesday intro, completely drew me in. I found it beautifully, though simply written and it painted a picture in my head that I still haven’t quite shaken.
The prologue (from which the intro was taken) has a young girl, a new mother, giving away her baby for adoption. It is heart breaking. It also suggests darker things might follow; “After all the hate, there you were.” And, given the type of books I normally read, I have to admit I envisioned an angry and bitter son appearing years later with an axe to grind, figuratively and literally.
This wasn’t the case though and, whilst what I got was still a thriller, it was a much more nuanced and thoughtful piece of writing than I had maybe being expecting. The prologue, rather than hinting of what was to come was rather an explanation of some of the behaviours of the central character, Ellie. These are further explained by flashbacks to her teenage years, which show how she has become the woman she has.
Most of the story, though, takes place in the present and in Kent, a region on the front line of the migrant crisis that played out on our screens the last few years. Migrants, their role in our lives (picking the food we eat, offering cheap labour) and our attitudes towards them (anger, distrust, general wariness as well as compassion) are front and centre in this book. Sarginson manages to highlight these issues without being preachy and turns their plight and our response to it into a gripping read, one that kept me turning pages.
She does this by making it about human beings and about love. Yes, this is a novel full of suspense but it is also a story with love at it’s heart (not a soppy love story but one about caring for and about people). The question is, who does Ellie love and who is lying to her, because there are two men vying for her heart and each believes the other is the bad guy, the one she can’t trust. It’s up to Ellie to figure it out, slowly unpicking the web of lies she has found herself at the centre of and which could end up threatening her life.
Possibly the only downside to the book is the who became clear a bit too early for me as I like to be kept guessing BUT to make up for this there were other twists in the tale I didn’t see coming at all and which kept me reading. And, I have to remember this wasn’t a standard domestic thriller of girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a psychopath. It was deeper than that and better for it. I liked it a lot and would definitely recommend it.
Note: I received a copy of this book from Net Galley in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.