From the beginning, if not even from the title, readers of Michael Robotham's latest suspense novel know there is an unnamed and ominous character shadowing the heroine, a "ghost that dances behind her closed lids and the darkness that blinks when she blinks.''
Clearly, we're going to spend much of the book wondering about the identity, actions and even the existence of this stalker, as we learn more about the one being watched: Marnie Logan, a thirtysomething mother of two, driven frantic by the disappearance of her husband, Daniel, and the gambling debt he stuck her with. Marnie's life ambitions have dwindled from castles in the sky to "decent plumbing and no mice." Broke and desperate, she has started working as a call girl but barely has earned the rent before her pimp is murdered.
Luckily for Marnie, her therapist (presumably paid for by the National Health Service, since the story is set in London) is Joe O'Laughlin, the criminal psychologist who has appeared in six previous Robotham novels and whose buddy Vincent Ruiz is a retired cop.
When Joe's office is ransacked and Marnie's file swiped, the two men try to figure out what is going on. Joe already suspects that Marnie is keeping secrets in their therapy sessions, and though he discovers she was dearly loved by her missing husband, plenty of other people think she is a witch from hell.
Marnie herself is trying to track Daniel's disappearance in the hopes of resolving her legal and emotional limbo. The cops are more interested in investigating her, especially as the body count rises. Meanwhile, the mysterious watcher slowly unfolds a story as well.
Robotham's skillful plotting is impressive: This is the kind of book where you'll flip back to see how well he larded clues and hints throughout, and the ending provides a major kick. Joe and Vincent are enjoyable to know, and the teenagers — both Marnie and Joe have daughters — are spot-on and sympathetic. (The same can't be said for his descriptions of a black policewoman. Skip that very uncomfortable chapter.)
Maybe appropriately for a novel in which a shrink plays detective, some major plot points are revealed after the fact, talked about rather than shown. No disrespect to the profession, but psychological analysis tends to sap suspense rather than enhance it.
Readers may find Robotham's plot, which involves an eminence whose wiliness borders on superpowers, brushes up against implausibility. But that would be thinking too hard about a book that is tastily written and cleverly designed.
By Michael Robotham
Mulholland Books, 432 pp.
Three stars out of four