The Heights by Louise Candlish: Impeccable plotting, and a palpable tension that grows at the turn of every page - book review -

Two years on, Ellen Saint is still haunted by the face of the man whose toxic friendship led to the death of her teenage son…

Friday, 6th August 2021, 4:55 am
The Heights
The Heights

But just how far can a mother go to avenge the death of her beloved child, and is it right to take matters into your own hands?

Suburban noir doesn’t come better than this nail-biting, mind-bending thriller from award-winning Louise Candlish, the queen of moral dilemma novels and a clever and exciting storyteller with the sharpest eye in the business when it comes to the complexities of human relationships.

In this twisting, turning new masterpiece, she sets her sights on the domestic fall-out from a corrosive friendship between two sixth-form students from opposite sides of the tracks… a relationship which becomes every parent’s worst nightmare and spills over into obsession, disaster and tragedy.

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To Ellen Saint, Kieran Watts is ‘the monster who destroyed my life.’ He walked into her 16-year-old son Lucas’s life when the two boys were at the same sixth-form college. Lucas was an academic with a reputation for being ‘a team player’ and was assigned to brash Kieran, who lived in care, as a ‘buddy.’

At their first meeting, Ellen could feel bad vibes from Kieran… he was ‘bristling with dislike and contempt’ and gave her a glare ‘so deadly, so chilling’ that she physically shivered. But the two teenagers were soon inseparable, ‘joined at the hip’ and sharing gaming sessions, parties, hangouts, and even skipping off school.

Ellen voiced her fears to both her husband Justin, Lucas’s stepfather, and to Vic Gordon, Lucas’s natural dad who lives not far from them. Vic is sympathetic over Kieran’s ‘toxic’ influence on their son but has always thought his ex-wife is too hysterical, while good-natured Justin tries to see the best in everyone.

As Lucas is increasingly away from home and neglecting his studies, Ellen becomes convinced that they would never forget the name Kieran Watts and when a terrible tragedy strikes, she is proved right.

Several years later, lighting consultant Ellen is visiting a client in an apartment block in the London riverside area of Shad Thames when she looks over at The Heights, an apartment building directly opposite, and sees a man on the roof terrace.

He’s a man she would recognise anywhere. Kieran Watts is older now and his appearance has subtly changed, but it’s definitely him. But that makes no sense at all to Ellen because he has been dead for over two years.

And she knows this for a fact because she’s the one who killed him…

Set against the social dynamics of family life in suburban London, and the pressures facing parents of savvy but vulnerable teenagers, The Heights is an emotionally-charged and addictive tale which asks questions about parental control, grief, rage, justice, and moral compasses gone askew.

With a shifting timeline and a narrative that moves between Ellen, Lucas’s natural father Vic, and a magazine article written by journalist Michaela Ross, Candlish’s story is a maze of contrasting, eye-opening perspectives, pulling together the threads of truth and lies, and revealing events in both the past and present.

As always in a Candlish novel, there is a powerful psychological undercurrent at play, pulling our suspicions from one character to another, confounding our theories of guilt and revenge, and delivering a body blow with the final, ingenious twist.

Add to the mix a fascinating exploration of a little-known condition called high place phenomenon, impeccable plotting, and a palpable tension that grows at the turn of every page, and you are assured of a thrill ride to the dark side!

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £14.99)