Happy Ever After

Written by C.C. MacDonald

Review written by Keith Miles

Keith Miles is probably best recognised by readers under the pen name of Edward Marston. He writes several well-received historical mysteries spanning the 11th century through to the 19th century. His website is www.edwardmarston.com

Happy Ever After
Harvill Secker
RRP: £12.99
Released: January 23, 2020

It’s always a pleasure to welcome a debut writer with obvious talent and MacDonald clearly belongs in that category. Happy Ever After deals with a marriage that is outwardly happy but, in reality, quite the reverse.

Naomi’s husband, Charlie, is depressed and treats their many attempts to produce a second child as chores in a joyless routine. Naomi is desperate for affection and finds it at her daughter’s nursery when she meets Sean, another parent, a muscular, broad-shouldered man whom she nicknames The Lumberjack.

Bored with her stale love life, Naomi is all too vulnerable. When the two of them take the children to the swimming pool, she has a shower only to find Sean, topless, standing in the doorway of her cubicle. It happens.

Weeks later, Naomi discovers that she’s pregnant. She’s horrified to realise that the child is not her husband’s. When she tries to contact Sean, she finds that he’s completely disappeared. Her descent into Hell begins. Naomi is relentlessly stalked and taunted. She feels more alone and hopeless than ever, especially when the police refuse to take her seriously. Without warning, there are fifteen or more pigeons fluttering about madly in the attic. When Naomi goes to investigate, the ladder gives way and she has a nasty fall. Another shock follows. A baby monitor has been hidden under the floorboards. Sean not only has easy access to the house. He’s been listening to their private conversations. The Lumberjack has turned into a monster.

There are no lengths to which the manipulative psychopath won’t go. Another victim confides that she was locked in one part of her house and forced to watch her dog being killed and eaten by a python. Sean, meanwhile, was filming the whole process on his mobile. To show Naomi that he’s completely in control, he briefly abducts her daughter then releases her with the gift of a candyfloss in her hand. Naomi is distraught. Her only way out of the nightmare is to tell the truth – to her husband and to the police – but she simply can’t do that.

There are some clever twists in the novel and the pace never slackens. The sense of doom builds remorselessly. Much, however, is left unexplained. How, for instance, did Sean (not his real name, it transpires) manage to acquire a flock of pigeons when he needed them, not to mention a dog-eating snake in an earlier campaign of terror? How did he manage to befriend Charlie so easily? Why has he taken so long to wreak what he conceives of as his revenge? Why are the police so unhelpful and unsympathetic? How much evidence of harassment do they need?

Most readers, I suspect, will not be troubled by such questions. They’ll be carried along by the sheer momentum of an intriguing, well-written, scary novel about a woman’s ordeal in the wake of one disastrous mistake. Look out for C.C. MacDonald. He’ll be back.

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