Watching You by Michael Robotham
Watching You by Michael Robotham (Mulholland Books, 2014) is the seventh book to feature Professor Joseph O’Loughlin, a psychologist, with retired detective Vincent Ruiz following in his wake. I remind the readers of these reviews that this protagonist is relatively unusual in having Parkinson’s Disease. If you have not already done so, you should read the review for Bleed For Me (link at the bottom of the page) for a discussion of the significance of the author’s decision to give his protagonist a serious disease.
His client for this book is Marnella (Marnie) Logan who has not had the happiest of lives. After a difficult childhood, her first marriage was not a success apart from a daughter Zoe. Then she met Daniel, an Australian who’d made a (temporary) home for himself in London. When they married, it was one of the first times she did not feel bad about herself. A son, Elijah, appeared but then Daniel disappeared. Unfortunately, he leaves a big debt behind — he claimed he was in Gamblers Anonymous, but that didn’t turn him into a winner when he lapsed. The debt is owned by a man who won’t take no for an answer. This forces her into work as an escort. She rationalises this would not be so bad a fate. She will earn more than she had been drawing when she worked in a restaurant. And it will pay down what’s now considered her debt. The first real problem of interest to us surfaces when her third client proves suicidal. She talks him out of death as the easy way out, but the minder administers a beating for failing to collect payment. When the vicious minder turns up dead, she becomes a person of interest. So there she is, trapped by circumstance. Without her husband’s body, she can’t claim on the insurance. Perhaps she can find a friendly lawyer to deal with that problem. The only positive she has is Joe O’Loughlin as her shrink. He’s curious about her situation, particularly when someone breaks into his office to steal her file. This brings Vincent Ruiz into play and, against his better judgement, he gets more proactive when he sees she may have been attacked by the man imposing the debt on her.
There are times when an author comes up with a very clever plot and, thinking that’s all he needs do, neglects to ensure the delivery is a proper thriller. This book hits a real sweet spot in both departments. The mechanism driving the plot remains beautifully ambiguous until about two-thirds of the way through. Yet even when the doubt is removed, we’re still left with a nicely judged cliffhanger of an ending. This is a high quality thriller. The need to avoid spoilers makes writing this review difficult. Suffice it to say that, in psychological terms, we’re dealing with quite rare conditions. Indeed, many might dispute the condition (or disorder) actually exists. Yet the evidence swirling around this person does offer some support for its existence. Indeed, even when Vincent Ruiz talks on the telephone with the person who may be behind all these incidents, the questions remain unresolved. There are, of course, indications of which way the coin will fall — it must be heads or tails, right? Binary rules, OK! But it’s only later as Joe begins to get a clearer picture of what’s actually going on that we come to understand the motivation of the key player(s). In retrospect, this was a tragedy long in the making as a simple love and desire to protect grew into something rather more powerful and potentially dangerous. There are one or two reference to Othello in the text and, in one sense, there’s a certain parallel with Iago’s desire for revenge whenever he considers himself provoked. Of course, not all parallels are exact and, this this case, it’s not at all clear who the Iago might be nor how a role that should inspire trust could become something darker.
Put all this together and Watching You turns out to be a top-class thriller with not only a clever plot, but also a darker twist that comes rather unexpectedly at the end. Only with that revelation does everything finally fall into place and, no matter how misplaced, the motive becomes clear. So we tick all the relevant boxes for crisp prose, fast pacing, beautifully rounded characterisations and a very satisfying conclusion. Michael Robotham plays a long game in this book, reserving the final question to the last page and leaving matters firmly in the hands of our experienced Professor O’Loughlin, the ultimately safe pair of hands.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.