Reviewed by Emma Crowley
When Sylvia looks out her bedroom window at night and sees a child face down in the pond next door, she races into her neighbour's garden. But the pond is empty, and no-one is answering the door.
Wondering if night feeds and sleep deprivation are getting to her, she hurriedly retreats. Besides, the fact that a local child has gone missing must be preying on her mind. Then, a week later, she hears the sound of a man crying through her bedroom wall.
The man living next door, Sam, has recently moved in. His wife and children are away for the summer and he joins them at weekends. Sylvia finds him friendly and helpful, yet she becomes increasingly uneasy about him.
Then Sylvia's little daughter wakes one night, screaming that there's a man in her room. This is followed by a series of bizarre disturbances in the house.
Sylvia's husband insists it's all in her mind, but she is certain it's not - there's something very wrong on the other side of the wall.
Andrea Mara's début novel The Other Side of the Wall had been sitting staring at me for weeks on my TBR pile and if it weren't for the fact my Kindle needing charging one evening it might still be there given how long I can take to get around to paperbacks these days. I soon realised what a huge mistake I had made by not reading this superb book far earlier. I've often said I'm not the biggest fan of thrillers or crime books but that every now and again I like to dip into the genre. When I do I have been fortunate recently that any book I have read in the genre has been excellent but this book surpasses any thriller I have read recently and like many other readers upon finishing this twisted story a huge question arose. How on earth could this only be the first book Andrea Mara has written? It reads like someone who has been writing for years and years and has spent a long time honing their craft, who knows and understands how to masterfully create suspenseful and tension filled books after years of experience and success and someone who can lead the reader up the wrong path with ease and confidence. All the praise I had seen heaped on this book is so worth it and I think maybe what was slightly putting me off reading it was the fact that everyone else loved it so much and normally when this happens with a book, I read it and then don't get what the all the fuss was about. Here I was happily proven wrong and I now know why other readers are raving about this book.
Each chapter has a heading with a date and a character name and this was needed throughout the book as without it I really would have been lost as to who the chapter was focusing on. I found myself reassured by the headings as the story moves forward and back over dates and characters. It would have been very confusing and disconcerting with so much jumping around if no explanation had been given at the beginning of each chapter. In fact this was a superb plot device as it gave the reader a well rounded view of all the characters featured. It's nearing the end of July and yet again Sylvia is awake in the middle of the night trying to get her baby Zack back to sleep. She is sleep deprived herself and under pressure back at work after her maternity leave, life has become a balancing act which she feels she is not juggling successfully.
Standing at the bedroom window looking out as she rocks Zack she thinks she sees something strange next door and given a young local girl had gone missing less than two weeks previously Sylvia's senses are heightened. The neighbours next door have only recently moved in and there in their pond in the dark is what Sylvia thinks is a body floating face down in the pond. Terror grips her and she races next door, ringing the bell and then in turn going around the back but there is nothing there. Had Sylvia aching with tiredness imagined it all? Was her subconscious given the recent news headlines playing tricks on her? Husband Tom is dismissive of Sylvia's fears and to be honest I probably would have been the same and put it down to being up all hours with the baby. Tiredness can do strange things to people but then over the following days and weeks strange things start to happen in the house, things which can't be explained away all that easily and Sylvia begins to think it could be connected to the new neighbours next store - the people on the other side of the wall.
Andrea Mara expertly weaves tension,mystery and intrigue as the story slowly starts to unfold. Sylvia becomes ever more paranoid with the unnerving occurrences in her own house and when she hears crying through the wall she is convinced there is something seriously weird and unsettling afoot. I always felt though that Tom never really believed the things were actually happening, the cynic in me may have questioned it for awhile but then I figured every thing in this story had a purpose, and that he should have questioned things more. I thought he believed Sylvia was under pressure in work dealing with something big going on and that she was imagining things. If your son and daughter's lives are being put in danger surely you would sit up and take much more notice. Judging on the blurb I thought the story would focus solely on Sylvia instead after setting us up with her story the author turns her attention to the new neighbours next door, the house in which Sylvia heard the crying.
Sam is married to Kate and they have two children Jamie and Seth. This new house is a fresh start for them, a bigger home to enjoy. Kate spends the summer down in Galway while Sam works during the week and gets on with the renovations. It seems the ideal set up but I felt Sam was up to something given all the 'extra' time he spends at work, he seemed distant from Kate and was making no effort in their marriage. I enjoyed how we heard from Kate's perspective for several chapters too. The man she loved as her husband seems to be developing into someone she doesn't know and she is upset and angry and wants to cut off all communication. Just what is he up to in Dublin as she spends the summer away with her boys and mother?
The story was moving along at a steady pace, it felt dark and the atmosphere became suffocating and overwhelming. I wanted to know was it all in Sylvia’s head or what? What connections did Sam and Kate have with it all? If anything? Why was there they need to have chapters from the some of the characters childhoods? It felt a bit random and misplaced then all of a sudden there was a chapter titled the woman. No names given, just hints at what was happening. Now I was thinking OK where is this going? I had been thinking this is a good read, not exceptional and I couldn't fully grasp what had people so hooked on this story. Then bang at the half way point everything was turned on its head – my opinions and the story itself. Within just a paragraph of very cleverly structured words Andrea Mara had me gasping out loud and standing up out of my seat and almost applauding at what had just unfolded. Yes there was much much more to come and this was just the beginning of the revelations but my god it was a brilliant piece of writing and an excellent twist. So many red herrings had been thrown in the reader's direction and I never picked up on any of them. I knew something wasn't right but never fully grasped how all the strands would come together or would we even get a full explanation. I was completely led up the garden path in very much the wrong direction but it felt good that I had guessed none of what was actually going on.
So having enjoyed the first half and all the setting up of the various plots the second half really got going. It took me on a journey that left me bewildered, shocked, enthralled and gasping in horror several times over and I couldn't bare to leave the book out of my hands but I had to given it was so late sleep was calling and therefore I finished the book the following morning. I virtually inhaled the latter parts of the books as things took on an even more sinister turn. An incident with an animal brought tears to my eyes at the injustice and horror of it all as well as many other things and that’s thanks to the phenomenal writing of the author. The twist was simply mind blowing and so so evil and depraved.
I really couldn't recommend The Other Side of the Wall enough. It's a highly impressive début and without doubt the best thing Poolbeg have published in a very long time. Andrea Mara is a force to be reckoned with and I only hope she writes many more thrillers in the years to come. It's a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat guessing and most definitely if possible deserves to be read in one sitting. Don't leave it languishing on the shelf like I did for a time, get out there now today and read it as soon as possible. It's a must buy and read and will undoubtedly be one of my books of 2017.
Many thanks to Poolbeg books for my copy of The Other Side of the Wall to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.