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The Visitors by Catherine Burns

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A dark and thrilling debut novel: disturbing, gripping, and hugely impressive.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Legend Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1787199859

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Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John, in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar. Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden. As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn't the only one with a dark side.

Catherine Burns is a Manchester-born author. Having worked as a bond trader in London before studying at the Moscow Institute of Film, and then teaching Film Theory at Salford University. The Visitors is her debut novel.

Dark thrillers have surged in popularity in recent years, with books like Gone Girl and The Girl on The Train at the top of the charts - books that combine dark psychological twists with troubled lead characters. As a result of the popularity, thrillers in a similar vein have been popping up left, right and centre - with the general quality declining as a result. That's not an issue here though - in her debut novel author Catherine Burns combines a study of a middle-aged woman, a tale of a highly dysfunctional family and slow burn of a mystery, creating a compelling read that's at once highly entertaining and wholly disturbing.

Marion is a complex character - her actions throughout the book should make her wholly unlikeable to the reader, but fantastic characterisation joined with revelations about Marion's childhood that are both sad and shocking, make her one who part of me was rooting for by the end of the novel - even if the other part of me was hoping for her to receive an overdue comeuppance. John, her brother, is an unpleasant character throughout - although one Bruns is careful not to make a caricature, allowing brief glimpses of humanity to shine through at odd moments. This is a dark book - with some truly horrific elements, but Burns is a skilled author who has learned to balance her elements well. In fact, the scenes of Marion and James's earlier life are so gothic and dark that a small seam of black humour creeps in - allowing Burns to touch horrific events with a brush of lightness, and making sure that the reader is unable to stop turning the pages - desperate to uncover the dark secets that lie at the black heart of this dysfunctional family. Cleverly crafted, this is an impressive debut from a strong new talent. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I recommend The Choice by Samantha King - another thriller that combines well plotted thrills with inventive writing, creating a cracking, page turning read.

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