Book review: Perfect Strangers by Erin Knight

'˜Words can be like weapons'¦ they do damage.'

Perfect Strangers by Erin Knight
Perfect Strangers by Erin Knight

Since she won ITV’s Lorraine Kelly’s search for the next big thing in contemporary women’s fiction five years ago, Erin Knight’s books have been published in fifteen countries and earned her a reputation as a smart and sassy observer of modern life.

Her gripping new novel explores the dark side of both the internet and human nature – and the potential power of the worldwide web to destroy lives – as we are whisked away to Cornwall and deep into the painful secrets of three very different women.

When young English teacher Isobel Hedley arrives in the quiet Cornish surfing resort of Fallenbay, she is determined to find peace – and answers – after her most intimate secrets have been cruelly splashed across the internet.

An unrelenting and horrendous online trail of spite, filth and hate has sent her fleeing to the coast but Fallenbay is not just ‘a random spot on the map.’ Isobel has other, hidden reasons for heading to this corner of the country.

Meanwhile, Cleo Roberts thinks she is happy running Coast, her small seafront café, even though her builder husband Sam sometimes seems to be more like a child than a man. Cleo’s 15-year-old twins Evie and Harry are chalk and cheese. Harry is the ‘easy’ one while feisty Evie has her troubles… but a world away from Cleo’s busy days at the café, the twins are getting mixed up in an online storm.

Another Fallenbay resident is Sarah Harrison who has finally put her horrible ex-husband Patrick behind her and is soon to marry again. Handsome and charismatic, Jon Hildred has moved in with Sarah and her two sons, and is eager to make them all ‘cogs in a well-maintained machine.’

But Sarah eldest son, teenager Max, is not going to like Jon’s scheme to sell the family’s beloved home and move to a soulless new house. It’s making Sarah nervous and she is starting to doubt whether marrying Jon would be the right thing for herself and her boys.

As the three women’s most agonising secrets – and memories – unite them, they see a darker side to this pristine Cornish seaside town that could change their worlds forever…

Three families feel the cruel fall-out when online privacy is invaded in this hard-hitting, engrossing and acutely perceptive story of lies, betrayal, malice and revelation.

Knight casts her eye over the slings and arrows of family life in a story that examines the bonds of friendship, the often hidden despairs of teen angst, and the innate human desire to love and be loved.

Clever, authentic dialogue, and a multi-layered plot packed with intrigue and high emotion bring this cautionary tale to vivid life as the three astutely portrayed women battle to protect their secrets and their families from malign forces… both tangible and intangible.

Entertaining, compelling and topical, Perfect Strangers is the perfect book club read.

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)