CRIME and thriller fans are in the dark days of Grip-Lit - books written mostly by women about women who have done bad, are doing bad or are being haunted by the ghosts of bad’s past.
You’ll know them. They usually have ‘Girl’ in the title - she could be ‘Gone’, ‘On a Train’, or ‘In a Red Coat’ but that doesn’t matter as the plots come second to the concept.
They mostly involve women who’ve had a relationship they shouldn’t have had and are being punished. They’re regularly offensive and shoddily edited to churn them out as fast as possible.
It’s therefore exhilarating to read a book with a chilling mystery at its core written by a woman about women.
Mary Paulson-Ellis’s debut novel The Other Mrs Walker features an unusual family filled with strong females. They do bad things, they have bad things done to them. But they strive to survive, stay in control and are never victims for long.
In present day Edinburgh Margaret Penny’s life lies in ruins. She’s returned to her mother Barbara and a home that never felt like home.
Here she encounters Barbara’s church friends, little old ladies with their Edinburgh ways of saying one thing and meaning another. She lands a job looking for the families of those who have died abandoned and alone.
Mrs Walker, who’s drunk so much whisky her liver ‘resembles fish paste’, is Margaret’s first case. As she digs into the lonely lady’s life, we’re transported into Mrs Walker’s past. A childhood in thirties London filled with murder and madness. A dark world of back street abortionists exploitation and secrets.
As Margaret starts unpicking the clues to discover Mrs Walkers true identity she begins to learn her own secret history is entwined with that of her new dead ‘friend’.
Paulson-Ellis does for Edinburgh what the great mistress of domestic macabre Ruth Rendell did for North London. If fact she could well be Rendell’s natural successor.
A haunting unusual thriller that keeps its terrors uncomfortably close to the hearts of its protagonists.
The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis published by Pan Macmillan £12.99 / ebook £8.99