There has been much excitement surrounding our June Book of the Month, with word-of-mouth describing it as the next Girl on the Train and the Times Crime Club choosing it as a starred pick. We have high hopes for it this summer, and expect both crime lovers and general readers to get caught up in the buzz.
The book in question is psychological thriller Exquisite by Sarah Stovell, published by Orenda. An original debut, the novel is pacey, tightly plotted and at times terrifying. It follows the story of two protagonists. The first, Bo Luxton, is a bestselling author with a loving family and a home in the Lake District. The second, Alice Dark, is a young, aspiring writer from Brighton whose life is a mess, comprised of dead-end jobs and a loveless relationship with her freeloading boyfriend.
Bo and Alice meet at a writers’ retreat. They take long walks together; Bo consoles Alice over the death of her mother and offers guidance to the younger writer. What starts as a friendship soon turns sexual as the chemistry between them becomes more and more intense. Obsessed with each other, they begin a complex – and ultimately sinister – relationship that provides the perfect catalyst for a page-turning thriller.
The story is told in alternating voices, either from the perspective of Bo or that of Alice. The narrative is broken by diary entries, written from inside a prison cell. We do not know which character this diary belongs too until the end of the book, a device that makes Exquisite all the more compelling. The voices of Bo and Alice feel genuine albeit unreliable; as readers we are never quite sure who, if either, is telling the truth. The background characters – Bo’s husband Gus, for example – help anchor the plot and offer hints as to which direction the narrative might take, but ultimately, the true story is kept hidden until the end.
As a publisher, Orenda is developing a strong reputation for publishing some of the highest quality, most interesting crime fiction out there. Exquisite is no different. Stovell’s writing is evocative, the narrative is full of twists and turns; comparisons to the bestselling psychological thriller Gone Girl are accurate. Perhaps the Times says it best:
“…the reader’s sympathies are kept on a knife-edge as Stovell skilfully juggles two unreliable narrators. It’s a remarkable debut in the crowded psychological thriller field, written with great sureness of touch and tone — it already feels like a summer bestseller.”
We can expect a lot more praise like this when the book is published on 1st June.
Exquisite is published by Orenda on 1st June 2017
(£8.99, paperback, 300pp, 9781910633748)