Book: Spare Room
Author: Dreda Say Mitchell
Publisher: Bloodhound Books
Price: Paperback (£8.99); Kindle (£1.99)
Review by Barbara Grant
Award-winning crime novelist, columnist and broadcaster Dreda Say Mitchell brings us her latest novel Spare Room, a psychological thriller.
The story is narrated through the eyes of troubled young Londoner Lisa who survived an accident on a farm when she was five years old, or so her parents would have her believe. Something did happen to Lisa in her childhood, but it is a secret her parents keep hidden from her.
Over the years Lisa becomes consumed by the secret. It gnaws at her mental health, rendering her edgy and fragile. Deep down she feels that the secret is to do with the physical and mental scars she carries. As those feelings intensify, finding answers quickly becomes her life purpose; a way of controlling her own thoughts and dreams.
During her pursuit for answers, Lisa responds to a local advert and rents a beautiful ‘spare room’ in Jack and Martha’s seemingly nice home. But all is not as it appears.
On arrival, Jack is at pains to make clear that certain parts of the house are off limits. Her compulsive drive to uncover her past leads her to ignore his warnings and throw caution to the wind. One day, while snooping, including in her room, she finds a note in the back of a drawer. A farewell or suicide note, it’s written in an unfamiliar language.
Lisa enlists the help of ex-boyfriend Alex to help make sense of the note and find more messages. After peeling off the wallpaper around the room they discover more scrawls, one dated 1998 written by someone named Solanov. The year when Lisa was five years old. Lisa starts to believe that whatever happened to her as a child happened in that house, despite being unable to explain or justify the feeling.
But time is running out as landlord Jack is just as determined to protect his privacy and “dirty little secret”. As the house starts to yield secrets of its own, a number of unnerving and inexplicable events, bordering on the sinister and menacing, happen. Fear sets in and Lisa’s mental state starts to crack as she believes she is being watched. But is she?
Alex worries about Lisa’s frayed mental state as he still cares for her, but is aware that her determination to find answers means she is unwilling to leave the house until she does.
Will Lisa find what she is searching for or will she crack and become another victim of the house and its dark history?
Dreda Say Mitchell’s Spare Room is gripping and brilliantly plotted. It is full of unsettling twists and turns that reveal the truth about the fragility of the human mind and how our present is tied to past events, past lives and past indiscretions.
A chilling psychological thriller, the book leaves you questioning the innocence of the characters and makes you understand the damage keeping secrets can do.