The idea of a stranger threatening your child would strike fear into any parent, The Escape has a menacing opening when Paula, the woman Jo Blackmore gives a lift to does just that. She says that she's lost something but Jo's husband Max may know where it is, then leaves with her terrifying words lingering behind her, The message to keep an eye on her daughter.
It quickly becomes apparent that Jo lives in constant fear of something happening to her daughter as she suffers from agoraphobia and anxiety, has to force herself to leave the house and isn't even able to take Elise to the park because of her fears. It transpires that she's had a panic attack in the past, believing she was being watched, and when Max says he's never heard of Paula, doubt creeps in. Is Elise really in danger? And if so who is she is danger from? As events spiral out of Jo's control and it seems that everybody is against her, Jo makes the decision to run away. After the ratcheting up of tension on the first part of the book, the story moves to Ireland and gradually we learn more about Jo, Max and the landlady, Mary who Jo and Elise end up staying with.
The story is mostly told from Jo's point of view, she is a character you feel immediate sympathy for although that is tempered occasionally with frustration at the choices she makes and although the storyline suggests her innocence the author has cleverly allowed some doubt to remain. Her husband, Max is far less likeable although there are moments where I did feel sympathetic to the plight of a man facing the loss of his child and the breakdown of his marriage. Paula is almost a peripheral character yet it is her threats that drive the action. Occasionally the story is told from the perspective of Jo's attacker and although these passages are short they add to the growing sense of terror. Having a secondary plot featuring the landlady Mary who lost her own daughter many years previously could have distracted from the story but actually it adds a welcome second layer that eventually explains the actions of a few characters and ends up becoming an important factor in the resolution of the story.
I quickly became immersed in The Escape, it's a gripping thriller that focuses on domesticity. As much as it's an exciting and tense story it's also a searing look at the breakdown of a marriage, at the lies people tell and the words that are left unspoken or should never be said. The story is ultimately about the fear of losing a child and the steps people will go to prevent that happening and it's that sense of dread that persists throughout The Escape and makes it so easy to relate to.
Many thanks to the publishers for my advance copy received through Netgalley in return for my honest review.
The Escape is published in the UK by Avon Books