The Watcher by Ross Armstrong

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The Watcher by Ross Armstrong

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: A blend of The Girl on the Train and Rear Window, The Watcher is a clever and well constructed thriller that serves as a strong debut novel.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: December 2016
Publisher: HQ
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0008181185

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Lily Gullick lives with her husband Aiden in a new-build flat opposite an estate which has been marked for demolition. A keen birdwatcher, she can't help spying on her neighbours. Then one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars and soon her elderly neighbour Jean is found dead. Lily, intrigued by the social divide in her local area as it becomes increasingly gentrified, knows that she has to act. But her interference is not going unnoticed, and as she starts to get close to the truth, her own life comes under threat. But can Lily really trust everything she sees?

Ross Armstrong is an actor, having performed with the RSC, and appeared in such shows as Ripper Street. This is his first novel, and it's an extremely strong debut – a clever blend of thriller and whodunit that also incorporates clever Hitchcockian references whilst casting an eye over the state of London as it is today. Lead character Lily is a tricky one – she talks directly to the reader, and one finds out about the various goings on through her. Yet there is a slight distance between the author and the narrator, which, whilst in some cases would be a bad thing, works well here – only making the reader slightly more suspicious of Lily. This is amplified when the mysteries truly start to appear, making her seem like more of an unreliable narrator than the reader may have first expected.

Mysteries come in thick and fast in this read – and whilst the main one grips throughout, the book does sometimes run the risk of becoming a little overcrowded with just quite so many twists, turns, and red herrings. However, the slightly chaotic feel of the mid point builds to a strong and incredibly tense climax, which benefits hugely from all the foundations laid before it. The set up of the book certainly deserves praise too – from Lily's viewpoint, she can see all the comings and goings of those in her block of flats, and is able to gain an overview of her small subsection of society. The observations that Lily has of those around her, as well as her reactions and opinions make for very interesting reading, and cleverly build up the character of Lily, whilst also elevating her neighbours into characters far more intriguing and thought provoking than they may have been handled by a different author. Perhaps it's the author's past as an actor that allows him to breathe life into a variety of characters, but it certainly serves the book very well indeed.

An intriguing thriller that's a very strong debut – The Watcher is well worth a read, and author Ross Armstrong well worth a watch…

Many thanks to the publishers for the copy. For further reading I'd recommend Savage Lane by Jason Starr – a book that, much like The Watcher combines thrills with clever character studies and an examination of the society that surrounds the characters within.

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