The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane is set in New South Wales. It is the story of Ruth, a 75-year old widow who lives a mostly isolated life with her two cats. Ruth’s house is close to the ocean and in the distance she can watch whales. She spends her time pottering about and thinking of the past, particularly her early years in Fiji where she fell in love with a young man, Richard Porter whom she lost when he instead married an Asian bride.
One night, as she lies awake, Ruth thinks she can hear a tiger in her house. She picks up the telephone and calls one of her grown up sons, Jeffrey, who reassures her. Ruth knows she has imagined the tiger but still, her sense of his presence in the house seems real.
The day after Ruth dreamed of the tiger, a woman called Frida turns up. Frida claims to have been sent by the government to spend a couple of hours a week helping Ruth with her housework. But, from the outset, the reader is suspicious. Why does Frida arrive with a suitcase? Who really sent her and why?
For Ruth’s sons, Frida’s arrival seems a godsend but the reader senses danger. And, as Frida implants herself into Ruth’s life and Ruth becomes reliant on her, the reader’s concerns grow.
The story is told from Ruth’s perspective but Ruth is an unreliable narrator. She is troubled by back pain, for which she takes medication but is somewhat haphazard with her dosage. She carries pills in her pocket and takes them when she feels the need. And, she continues to sense the tiger’s presence. So can her perception be trusted? At the same time, Frida’s manipulation and control are menacing and we fear for Ruth’s safety.
The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane is not so much a psychological thriller as it is a novel about the vulnerability of age. Menace and magic coexist in a story that hangs around in your head for days after you finish reading it.
The Heat of Betrayal is the latest novel to flow from the pen of best-selling author Douglas Kennedy. It is a story of adventure set mostly in Morocco with some good characters and a strong plot.
Accountant Robin is married to artist Paul. She is successful and level-headed where he is impulsive and extravagant but they seem happy. As Robin nears her fortieth birthday, her biological clock is ticking and she’s keen to have a baby.
When Paul suggests a holiday in Morocco, Robin agrees and they set off for a few weeks of sunshine and relaxation. As is often the case in Kennedy novels, ‘happenstance’ plays an important role. Here, when Paul disappears and Robin is suspected of harming him, her world changes utterly and suddenly turns very dangerous.
Fortunately Robin is brave, inventive and has the financial nous to get herself out of some sticky situations. As she looks for Paul, her path crosses some dodgy characters and she uncovers some unexpected secrets from Paul’s past.
Strong women in The Heat of Betrayal
Douglas Kennedy has the gift of creating strong women characters and presenting the world through their eyes. Robin is a good example and the other female characters in this novel are also believable and sympathetic.
If I have a quibble with The Heat of Betrayal, it is that I was not keen on the violence that Robin encounters in her quest to find Paul. But Kennedy sustains the tension right to the end of The Heat of Betrayal.
This is a novel with a strong plot and believable characters making for a thought-provoking page turner that is hard to put down. I liked The Heat of Betrayal more than Temptation and Five Days, both of which I thought were disappointing when compared to Kennedy’s earlier novels like A Special Relationship and The State of the Union. For me, The Heat of Betrayal is a return to top form for Douglas Kennedy. I enjoyed it.
[Disclosure: An advance copy of The Heat of Betrayal by Douglas Kennedy was made available via Netgalley for the purpose of this review]