Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn
There are times when reviewers describe a book as a “fast read” and mean it in a dismissive way, implying it’s the kind of book you might pick up in an airport that might entertain you for the length of the flight. In the case of Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn (St Martin’s, 2014), I’m using the phrase in a more positive light. Let’s start with the prose. It’s not completely minimalist, but it does have an elegant, stripped-down feel to it that places no barrier between the author and the reader. These are words strung together in a way that attractively say what they mean. The fastness of the read is enhanced by the nature of the plot. It’s one of these long-reveal books and, once the seeds of interest have been planted, the reader is going to keep turning the pages to find out what has happened. So far, all this is positive and, if I were to stop here, you would assume I would be giving this book an unhesitating recommendation. Unfortunately, I have to enter a caveat.
By way of explanation, I have to explain that as a professional reader, I’ve read thousands of books. I have so many t-shirts boasting I’ve been there and done that, I need never buy another item for my wardrobe. It takes something unusual to elicit the unhesitating recommendation. Sadly, this does not quality. From the opening paragraphs, it’s obvious we’re dealing with an unreliable narrator. This is a young man who suffers from acute panic attacks which not only affect him physically with some degree of paralysis to his hands coming as the precursor to unconsciousness and some memory loss. All we know for sure about him is that he and his sister were adopted, and that his sister was later sent to jail for an arson attack in which a young girl was seriously injured and some horses were killed.
My problem is that, about sixty pages into the book, I developed a detailed working hypothesis about what had happened in this young man’s past, and what would happen at the end. Sadly, I was right in almost every detail. This is not to say the book lacks originality. It’s just that there are only a limited number of probable scenarios that fit the setup and what I took to be the right one proved correct. So here comes the summation to this review. For an old and tiresomely know-it-all reviewer like me, this is a by-the-numbers plot which is very nicely constructed and elegantly written. If you are similarly experienced in reading thrillers, you will not be even remotely surprised at the ending. But if you are young and, as yet, relatively inexperienced, this plot may very well strike you as a breath of fresh air. You will be stunned by the revelations, mesmerised by the ingenuity with which the reveal is managed, and shocked by the ending. This is how it should be if the thriller is a good one. Now you can make an informed choice. Look into your heart and decide whether you have read many unreliable narrator novels. If not, then I unhesitatingly recommend Complicit. Otherwise, don’t bother.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.