Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

THE HOUSE ON THE CLIFF by Charlotte Williams

Charlotte Williams The House on the Cliff

With the positively creepy Gothic cover on the front of The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams, I was expecting a creepy, delightful read. Even reading the synopsis on the back of the book didn’t put me off of that expectation.

What I got, and what you will get if you pick up this book, is a well-plotted and twisty little psychological mystery novel. The cast of characters is small, but there’s a lot going on.

This is supposed to be the first book of a series about Jessica Mayhew, a psychologist juggling an unfaithful husband, two teen daughters, and a practice. The mystery in this book reaches out to Jessica and directly involves her, but I don’t know how the author is going to pull that off again and again to meet the needs of a series.

I really liked the writing style Williams employs here. The first person narration is good, the character is deep enough to draw me in, and her world feels real. She spends a lot of time describing things, but I was somewhat disappointed because the book is set in Wales and it feels too familiar to me. I didn’t get that Welsh feeling I was expecting. Part it that might have been because the scenes were set in Jessica’s office, home, and Stockholm where she visits for a bit. The most striking thing about the setting is the house, and that may have been because of the cover.

The problem she presents here is interesting. I’ve NEVER heard of anyone having button phobia, and I’m still not sure I’d believe someone really had it even if they told me. Buttons just don’t do anything. They sit there. I can understand a fear of snakes, dentists, etc., but a fear of buttons just put me off. I struggled with this part of the book, especially when – as Jessica points out – it could probably be handled by a conditioning exercise.

The unfaithful husband comes into play immediately, and I never did warm up to the character, although I think I was supposed to. Bob was kind of vapid and selfish, and I just never got around to trusting him.

The problem with Nella, the out-of-control teenage daughter, put me off completely. I can’t imagine any parent knuckling under to that girl’s arguments, especially a professional psychologist. That part of the story really draws you along to see what happens, and is in many ways more explosive than what is supposed to be the main problem. I got caught up in the fallout from that situation even though I had to check my disbelief several times. I just can’t imagine this situation would have gone on as long as it did, or get solved so quickly.

The mystery of the dead au pair and the situation Gwydion Morgan brings to Jessica’s door gets lost in the narrative too often to work as a true puzzle, and I had it figured out well before I got to the end.

Still, I sat down and breezed through this book in an evening, sucked in by the storytelling. Charlotte Williams is a deft writer in narrative, and I’m interested to see what she does for a follow-up. With the family issues pretty much settled in this novel, the next book will have to focus more on the mystery.

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