Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review of "The Breakdown" by B.A. Paris




On the evening before the summer holidays, schoolteacher Cass Anderson says goodbye to her colleagues, gets into her car, and heads for home. A sudden thunderstorm makes road conditions hazardous so Cass takes a shortcut through dark, woodsy, isolated Blackwater Lane.....though she promised her husband she wouldn't.

On Blackwater Lane Cass spots a car pulled off in a lay-by, with a woman inside. Thinking the woman might need assistance Cass stops in front of her and waits. The woman doesn't get out, or flash her lights, or tap her horn, so Cass - thinking of stories about thieves setting traps for do-gooders - goes on her way.

The next day the BBC reports that a woman was found murdered in Blackwater Lane. Realizing it was the person in the lay-by Cass feels terrible, thinking she might have been able to help the victim. It also occurs to Cass that the killer may have been lurking about.....and seen her!

Cass is so shocked, confused, and guilt-ridden that she can't make herself call the police, or even tell her husband Matthew what happened. Worse yet, when Cass learns the name of the victim, Jane Walters, she realizes she knew her. Cass's best friend Rachel had invited her to a leaving party for a co-worker a couple of weeks back, and Jane was there. Cass and Jane had hit it off and met for lunch a couple of days later.

On top of being distraught about Jane, other worrisome things are happening to Cass:
She forgets to purchase the group gift for her friend Susie's birthday, and can't even remember getting the money.....or what she was supposed to buy.
After receiving an estimate from a security company Cass apparently agrees to have her house alarmed - but doesn't recall making the arrangements or signing the contract.
When a friend calls to ask what time his family should come over for a barbecue, Cass doesn't remember inviting them, and is completely unprepared.
While purchasing a baby outfit for a friend Cass seemingly orders a pram to be delivered to her house, but has no memory of doing this.
Cass is sure she parked her car on Level Four of the shopping center's car park, but it isn't there when she returns.
And so on.

Cass thinks she's getting early onset dementia, a condition that contributed to her mother's premature death. Cass can't decide what to do. Matthew doesn't know about her mother's illness, and Cass is afraid to tell him now - thinking he'll be sorry he married her.

To add to her troubles Cass starts getting frightening phone calls. Every morning, after Matthew leaves for work, the phone rings.....but no one speaks. Cass convinces herself that this is Jane's killer, who plans to murder her. Cass becomes increasingly anxious and fearful - jumps at every sound - and begins to behave irrationally.

Matthew realizes that something is off, but he's a very solitcitous spouse.....constantly hugging and caressing Cass, and planting kisses on her face and head. (This overdose of affection made me squirm.) Matthew even arranges for Cass to see a doctor, where she gets pills to ease her stress.

Cass tries to lessen her unease by looking in on Jane's husband and children, and confiding in her former boyfriend John. Eventually an important discovery leads to a satisfactory denoument, and that's all I can say.

For me this book is just okay. The entire narrative is told from Cass's perspective, so we follow what Cass is seeing, hearing, thinking, saying, and doing - day after day - for many weeks. This makes the book feel a bit slow and claustrophobic (to me). Moreover, Cass behaves in a naive and foolish fashion, which got on my nerves. I prefer female protagonists to be bright and and capable. And finally, many readers are likely to figure out what's going on early in the book, which lessens the pleasurable suspense.

In parting I'll say this: if you enjoyed B.A. Paris's book Behind Closed Doors you'll probably like this story - and vice versa.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for a copy of this book.

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