Torn between suspicion and compassion, Stella is ill-equipped to handle the duplicitous teenager who wants to see her husband. Does Blue need protection or is she out to do the couple harm? How much of what she says can be believed and is Stella strong enough to face the truth?
Moving back and forth between Stella’s present dilemma, a series of undated therapy sessions, and a complex case at the Grove Road Clinic two years earlier, the reader gradually realises what’s at stake. We come to appreciate the depth of fear that has led to her withdrawal from the world and the danger that still lurks at the heart of Stella’s supposed safe haven. This is an engaging psychological thriller about vulnerability, trust and webs of deceit, in the manner of How to Be a Good Wife.
Well, I was shocked by the therapy chapters right from the start, until I realised they were intentionally transgressive; in fact, they might serve as an object lesson for clients to guard against potential abuse. In the context of the novel they work very well: we’re left to guess at the identity of the participants, and, while we witness the process of seduction, it isn’t clear how much is fantasy and how much reality.
But I was disappointed in Stella: not so much in the quivering wreck we meet on the first page (although she is somewhat tardy in informing the police that she’s entertaining a possible juvenile runaway in her sitting room) but in the young clinical psychologist, two years post qualification, writing court reports at a plush private clinic. When the pompous Dr Simpson arrives for assessment, instead of working extra hard to gain his trust, she hands him a tedious-looking questionnaire and leaves the room. And the author knowing it’s wrong is no excuse for her allowing herself to become dependent on benzodiazepines or taking clinical files off the premises (p. 174) or arranging an impromptu session with a client after hours. Although she should be applauded for being the first of my fictional psychologists to be in receipt of clinical supervision, she ought to know that it’s insufficient to be getting it solely from a psychiatrist (wrong profession) who also happens to be her boss. While the boundaries might be more lax in the private sector than in the NHS with which I’m more familiar, she is still bound by the same code of conduct and I have to agree when she concludes:
She was a psychologist, she should’ve seen the signs. She should have suspected. (p. 302)
but, if she had, there wouldn’t have been a story.
Don’t Stand So Close is published by Transworld Books who kindly provided my review copy.
Next in this series, I’ll be analysing another thriller, this time featuring a chess-playing Freudian analyst in 1914 St Petersburg, Zugzwang by Ronan Bennett. I’d be delighted if you could join me.