While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt #BookReview

While You Sleep

A house full of secrets…

The McBride house lies on a remote Scottish island, isolated and abandoned. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there. Last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.

A woman alone at night…

For Zoe Adams, the house offers an escape from her failing marriage. But when night falls, her peaceful retreat is disrupted—scratches at the door, strange voices—and Zoe is convinced she is being watched.

A threat that lurks in the shadows…

The locals tell Zoe the incidents are merely echoes of the house’s dark past. Zoe is sure the danger is all too real—but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

Title: While You Sleep | Author: Stephanie Merritt | Publisher: HarperCollins | Pages: 401 | ISBN: 9780008248239 | Publication date: 8th January 2018 | Source: ARC .mobi from Net Galley

‘While You Sleep’ is a great example of the kind of mis-marketing that seems commonplace in the publishing business. Looking at the cover you’d take it to be the kind of domestic thriller that is very popular at the moment – sympathetic female character in a familiar environment experiences mild peril in a way that could happen to you! I’m a bit tired of that kind of thing, so thankfully ‘While You Sleep’ isn’t like that at all.

Stephanie Merritt’s book is a beguiling and for the most part very successful blend of mystery, gothic horror, folklore and romance. In fact it draws on so many different genres that I did debate for a while whether I should review it on CriminOlly at all. The mystery element is strong enough though, that I think crime fans will enjoy it.

The heroine is 40-something American Zoe, who travels to a remote Scottish island to rest and reset her life. She stays in the recently renovated McBride house, a place with a dark history, and soon finds it leaching into her dreams. As the plot progresses she learns more about the tragic events that took place there in Victorian times, and also that a local boy went missing nearby. With the setup efficiently delivered, the rest of the book focuses on Zoe’s attempts to unravel the twin mysteries, helped by the island’s school teacher/romantic interest Edward and local historian Charles.

There are two things that make the book work as well as it does: the characters and Merritt’s skilfull blend of the genre’s I mentioned above. Zoe is convincing and easy to sympathise with, even when it feels like her perception of what is happening around her is unreliable. I found it easy as a reader to put myself in her shoes, alone and isolated in a community that doesn’t welcome strangers. Whilst there is a quite a rich supporting cast of named characters, it’s the community as a whole that really comes through – suspicious, superstitious and clinging to ideas formed a hundred years previously. The mystery of what really happened in the McBride house hangs over the whole island, and the gradual revelation of it, along with the more recent disappearance, makes for gripping reading.

A large part of the mystery is whether or not anything supernatural is at play, either in Victorian times or the present day. Merritt does a great job of keeping the reader guessing, walking that fine tightrope where you never know if something weird really is going on or if it’s just in the character’s imaginations.

I really enjoyed it, finding it a compelling, accomplished read. It’s never truly scary or shocking, but it is a very satisfying read and one I’d definitely recommend if you’re after something a little different from the normal crime fare.   

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