by Rana Asfour
This is the story of Rachel, an alcoholic who drinks to the point of blackouts, and is prone to drunk dialling her ex-husband's house in which he lives with his current wife Anna and their baby daughter Evie, ranting and screaming hysterically. Rachel's relationship with her drink has cost her a marriage, friends, a job and soon the only place she can call home.
Rachel has lied to her roommate about her work situation. So each and every day, she wakes up and takes the 8:04 train from Ashbury into London and spends the day wandering aimlessly until it's time to take the 17.56 train back home. Her daily commute passes just behind her old neighbourhood where she used to live blissfully with her husband. Now, unable to look at her house because of the hurt it brings back of her husband's infidelity, she has become fixated on the goings on in house number 15 that she can see into from the train. Every time the train stops, she imagines the 'perfect' life being lived by the 'perfect couple' she passes everyday. She assigns them names, and imagines what they do for a living and what they talk about in their 'perfect' world. They become her golden couple and part of her everyday life.
However, Rachel wasn't always this over-weight, alcoholic, down-trodden, disillusioned woman. She blames Anna, the woman who stole Rachel's husband from her. Anna who now lives in the same house that Rachel and her husband, Tom, bought together, sleeping in the same bed and using the same furniture. Understandably, the two don't get along and Anna is desperate to get rid of Rachel once and for all especially after an incident that has terrified Anna into believing that Rachel is not only a danger to Anna herself but also to little Evie.
Soon Rachel's world is turned upside down when she learns of the disappearance of Megan, the woman in house 15! Rachel believes she can help find her and is adamant that whatever happened to Megan is linked to events during one of her blackouts and so tries time and time to remember with no success. Memories of a dress, a car, a red-haired man, and a struggle pop up in her dreams, and even during her drunken episodes but she cannot connect all the dots and is therefore unable to create any logical sequence to the events or any explanation to why she would actually know anything. But we do know she was there at the train station where Megan was last seen. However, when she goes to the police, even they dismiss her as a disillusioned alcoholic and a 'rubbernecker'.
However, Rachel persists. Both with her drinking and with her sleuthing to find out what could have happened to Megan on 'that' night; She soon meets and befriends the other half of the 'perfect couple' in house number 15; the 'perfect husband' Scott and lies to him about having known Megan before she disappeared. She makes an appointment to see Megan's therapist believing him to be directly responsible for Megan's disappearance. She cannot bring herself to believe that Scott could ever harm Megan because she 'knows' and 'seen' how much he loves her.
Rachel's depressed moods and sense of loss serve to intensify and justify her drinking binges. Her life spirals out of control with excessive drinking hindering her perception of what's real and what's imagined, what happened and what didn't happened. As the lines blur, the reader is taken backwards and forwards in time as Rachel, Anna, and Megan narrate the events that lead the reader to the final whodunnit!
For all those of you who loved 'Before I Go to Sleep' by SJ Watson or the more recent 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn, this one is for you. It is a nail-biting, intense, quick-paced and very well-written, thriller. It's only downside is that it does sadly come on the heels of a string of very successful thrillers so I was able to figure out the culprit long before the ending and yet that did not detract from my enjoyment. I remained gripped until the end. A very good debut and I highly recommend it!