Review: The House on the Cliff, By Charlotte Williams
Cool sleuth presses all the right buttons
Author and folk singer Charlotte Greig made an impressive debut with her novel A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy, in which the heroine tries to apply wisdom from the male intellectual tradition to her own life as a young student in right-on 1970s Brighton. Now writing as Charlotte Williams (she is married to the Welsh novelist John Williams), she has moved into the crime genre.
Billed as the first in a series, the book begins with what looks like a straightforward case for psychotherapist Jessica Mayhew. A strikingly attractive young actor, Gwydion Morgan, turns up at her office requesting help with his button phobia. He has a role in a historical drama and is worried about how he will cope with his costume. Struck by the mixture of genuine anxiety and staginess in his talk, Jessica proposes to refer him to a colleague who specialises in phobias, but Gwydion is resistant.
A keen Freudian, she wonders if the real problem is some kind of secret he needs to "unbutton". She takes him on, uncomfortably aware of their mutual attraction, but despite her care, Gwydion seems to be deteriorating fast. She gets an urgent summons from his family's remote mansion, an exotic pile she breathlessly describes as "like something out of a fairy story", before chiding herself: "Make your mind up, Jessica." Gwydion's parents are "famous for Wales": his mother Arianrhod is a charismatic former actress and his father Evan a lothario theatre director. The mad, bad Morgans are all the more compelling since Jessica's own family life is such a disaster; her husband Bob has been unfaithful and her surly teenage daughter, Nella, is testing sexual boundaries with an unappetising older man.
This is a tightly focused psychological drama with a small cast of characters and only one crime – a mysterious drowning 20 years previously – yet Williams manages to generate considerable intrigue from such minimal ingredients. References to the Mabinogion, Lacan and the 19th-century novelist Maria Edgeworth raise the tone above most crime fare, and the setting, which switches from the bustle of Cardiff to the wild Pembrokeshire coast, provides the perfect backdrop for a tale of raw emotions and explosive rage. I look forward to more outings for Williams's cool, clever, yet flawed psychological sleuth.
Arts & Ents blogs
There is a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refle...
The opening titles squeal ‘Never Can Say Goodbye…’. Oh Lord how I wish I could heave this series off...
Even though there was a complete absence of our favourite odd couple Brienne and Jaime, we got anoth...
'He was lucky he didn't die' - George Michael fell out of speeding car onto M1 motorway, according to eye witness
Further Space Oddity: Jeremy Paxman grills British astronaut Major Tim Peake in weirdly aggressive Newsnight interview
Coronation Street triumphs over EastEnders at British Soap Awards 2013
Cannes Film Festival 2013 review: Behind The Candelabra - Michael Douglas brilliantly captures Liberace's showmanship
Inferno author Dan Brown 'honoured' to be invited to join the Freemasons
- 1 Gay couple beaten in park urge MPs to moderate language on gay marriage
- 2 Swedes set up 'ultimate Viking movie'
- 3 After woman sells virginity for $780,000, here are the results of our prostitution survey
- 4 Far-right French historian, 78-year-old Dominique Venner, commits suicide in Notre Dame in protest against gay marriage
- 5 'It was just like the movie Twister': Man survives Oklahoma tornado by taking refuge in horse stall
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.