Book review: Cuckoo by Julia Crouch

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‘Nothing is what it seems’... Julia Crouch’s dark novel sheds a new and disturbing light on the age-old maxim.

There’s another saying that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’... and one about ‘a friend in need being a friend indeed.’

All these truisms lie at the fast-beating heart of what is undoubtedly a superb debut novel but if that makes Cuckoo sound like a book of clichés, think again because life’s major driving forces get a compelling workout in this deliciously unsettling, read-it-in-one-go suspense thriller.

Crouch excels at giving us the unexpected and when allied to an intelligent plot, an air of menace so evil that it raises the goosebumps and a chilling human drama of deep psychological intensity, you have all the makings of a real classic.

Rose and her husband Gareth live in a beautiful, newly renovated house in the Wiltshire hills with their two young daughters, Anna and baby Flossie.

Just as they are settling into a much-anticipated routine after two and a half years of hard work, Rose’s oldest friend Polly calls with the news that her husband Christos has been killed in a car accident in Greece.

Even though they haven’t seen much of each other since Polly moved overseas, they always seem to be able to pick up where they left off. Not surprising for two women whose lives have been entwined through school years, teens and twenties.

They had both married artists and rather unfashionably moulded themselves around their men and their children.

Despite the fact that Gareth has never liked Polly on the grounds that she ‘gave him the creeps,’ Rose doesn’t think twice about inviting her to stay. She’d do anything for Polly and it’s always been that way.

Extrovert Polly has never been one to conform – it’s one of the qualities Rose most admires in her – and from the moment she and her two small boys, Nico and Yannis, arrive on Rose’s doorstep, it’s obvious she is not the typical grieving widow.

But the longer Polly stays, the more Rose wonders how well she really knows her and she can’t help questioning whether Polly’s presence has anything to do with her growing sense that she’s losing her hold on her own family and home.

Very soon Rose’s cosy world starts to fall apart at the seams as her baby falls dangerously ill and Gareth grows increasingly distracted.

It appears that once you invite Polly into your home, it’s very difficult to get her out again...

The gradual deconstruction of Rose’s idyllic and ordered middle-class world is a work of authorial black magic. Her characters are flawed but initially recognisable people whose lives degenerate into damaging suspicion and something even darker.

Cuckoo sets us thinking about the complex nature of friendship while at the same time delivering an absorbing and spine-tingling thriller.

Don’t miss it!

(Headline, paperback, £6.99)