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HOUSE. TREE. PERSON
by Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, September 2017
362 pages
$24.99
ISBN: 0738752169


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Catriona McPherson, who is known for writing the lighthearted Dandy Gilver mysteries, has lately been writing darker standalones. HOUSE. TREE. PERSON. is her latest—and maybe her best so far.

Alison McGovern, a beautician, has just been hired on at Howell Hall, a Scottish psychiatric hospital, as a beauty and art therapist—never mind that she has little experience. Her husband, Marco, has stretched the truth on her CV, and Ali gets the job. On her first day of work, a body is found in the crumbling abbey ruins across from her house—and it seems her teenage son, Angelo, may know more than he is letting on. Soon, police are calling him a person of interest.

The family, once comfortably middle class, is now living in a small, crowded cottage, still dealing with the aftermath of Marco's business having failed. And Ali is still dealing with the nervous breakdown she had ten years ago. Now, surrounded by stress and strange happenings, both at home and at work, she begins to question her own sanity.

The items in the title refer to a diagnostic tool used by psychologists—a patient is asked to draw those three items—and so Ali decides to use it on several patients, including one who is near-catatonic. Her approaches are bumbling, since she has never worked in a mental health facility. Nevertheless, they start to bring up long-buried secrets.

McPherson has written a solid, stay-up-all-night-reading psychological thriller. The setting, in the Galloway countryside, is spooky on its own, but the author layers so much more upon it—twisted family dynamics, an unreliable narrator, a mental hospital whose staff (not just its patients) seem damaged, and a suspenseful plot that delivers twist upon twist.

To that pantheon of great psychological suspense writers—authors like Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters and the team of Nicci French—you can now add Catriona McPherson's name.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, September 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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