Book review: Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

When does a friendship become too close for comfort… and what happens when love is only one step away from hatred?

Precious Thing by Colette McBeth
Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

These are just two of the intriguing questions posed by Colette McBeth in her slow-burning, spine-tingling and quietly menacing debut novel.

McBeth is no stranger to the murkier side of life having covered notorious crimes like the Suffolk Strangler and the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins while working as a BBC news correspondent.

Using her journalistic experience and newly acquired skills from a prestigious novel writing course, McBeth plays a magnificent opening hand in a gripping psychological thriller featuring two childhood friends whose obsessive relationship unravels in spectacular fashion.

Subtle and coolly intelligent, Precious Thing is a dark, page-turning mystery which explores the age-old conflicting concepts of life and death, friendship and enmity, truth and lies, trust and betrayal, reason and madness.

How well can friends really know each other, asks McBeth, and whose story should we believe when things go horribly and frighteningly wrong?

Rachel Walsh and Clara O’Connor from Brighton were the very best of school friends… they met when Rachel was the new girl in class and Clara was the friend everyone wanted.

Instantly, they fell under one another’s spell and nothing would be the same again. They laughed together about the little things that only they found funny, they traded the knowing looks and the in-jokes and they were always together because it was the only way they ‘made sense.’

Some friendships fizzle out but Rachel and Clara, whose school pals thought them ‘weirdly close,’ promised theirs would last for ever. After leaving school, circumstances forced them apart but, now in their late twenties, they are planning to meet up again.

Rachel has a successful career as a television crime correspondent, a smart London flat and a wonderful boyfriend Jonny who is everything she thought she could not have.

In contrast, Clara is still hanging around in Brighton where her life appears to be spiralling out of control but, despite everything, they remain inextricably bound.

When Rachel is dispatched to a news conference in Brighton about a missing woman, she is horrified to discover that it is Clara who has vanished.

Is it abduction, suicide or something else altogether, and who is the stalker sending threatening text and email messages to Rachel? What do you do when you discover something about your oldest friend that forces you to question everything you have shared together? The truth is always there, but only if you choose to see it…

Writing in the form of a personal diary from Rachel to Clara, McBeth ratchets up both the mystery and the nail-biting suspense in a storyline that slowly strips away the veneer from a complex relationship which has the deepest, darkest of souls.

There are twists and turns to fool and flummox but the shocking truths at the heart of the story unfold relentlessly, layer by layer, on a terrifying journey to the final disturbing and devastating dénouement.

A clever, compelling and impressive debut…

(Headline Review, hardback, £14.99)