I review The Watcher by Ross Armstrong.
Many thanks to the author, publisher & NetGalley for providing a review copy.
She’s watching you, but who’s watching her?
Lily Gullick lives with her husband Aiden in a new-build flat opposite an estate which has been marked for demolition. A keen birdwatcher, she can’t help spying on her neighbours.
Until one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars and soon her elderly neighbour Jean is found dead. Lily, intrigued by the social divide in her local area as it becomes increasingly gentrified, knows that she has to act. But her interference is not going unnoticed, and as she starts to get close to the truth, her own life comes under threat.
But can Lily really trust everything she sees?
Following on from the success of Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train, we’re seeing an influx of psychological thrillers, coupled with unreliable narrators and shocking twists. I’m by no means complaining – I love a good thriller, especially one that takes me completely by surprise, as The Watcher did.
Lily has just moved into a block of new flats in North London. They’re still knocking down some old flats across the way, making way for more shiny, expensive flats that have become the norm in places like London. Armstrong touches upon the very real theme of people being priced out of London, kicked out of their homes. The divide between rich and poor, young and old. In many places, you see old, decrepit buildings, split into tiny studio flats, with graffiti over the walls and broken windows; and just across the street are brand new, gleaming buildings, that will set you back a pretty penny. Armstrong describes London accurately, and should be commended for telling it true.
While watching through her binoculars, Lily sees something in one of the new flats that grabs her attention, and her imagination. She begins to obsess about this particular resident, and what they might be up to. When a lady in the old block of flats is murdered, Lily makes it her mission to find out who’s responsible, even if it costs her her life. The Watcher is a psychological thriller and a classic whodunit rolled into one.
I’m usually pretty good at figuring out twists before they’re revealed, so when a book manages to shock me, I rate it very highly. I did figure out “whodunit”, but the other twists were excellent enough to make me gasp. In order to keep this review spoiler-free, I won’t say any more, but Armstrong is excellent at keeping the reader guessing, throwing red herrings in your path and coming at you from all angles.
The style of writing is another one that seems to be becoming more popular at the moment. The book is comprised of Lily’s journals, where Lily addresses the reader. You wonder for a long time who she’s speaking to, and why she won’t answer their calls or speak to them directly. It’s a clever way of writing that, when done right, can have a huge impact on the way a story is told. Armstrong gets it right.
My only nitpick is that I didn’t really get Lily sometimes. I know that saying, reality is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense, or something to that effect, but actually the thing about fiction is that it has to have characters who make sense, who readers can relate to. Lily is a female character written by a male author, and that does show through at times (what women wears a bra while pottering about the house, I ask you?!). But as an unreliable narrator, Lily is excellent, and that’s where Armstrong’s talent shines through.
Unfortunately, this proof copy was full of errors. It needs some strong editing before it’s released. I don’t usually comment on this when reviewing proofs, as they’re not in the final stage, but there was a particularly large number of mistakes in this, so I thought I’d mention it.
If you’re a fan of eerie thrillers, you definitely don’t want to miss out on The Watcher. It’s a quick read, but one that will grab hold and suck you in.
The Watcher is due out later this year.