The Therapist by B.A. Paris

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British novelist B.A. Paris delivers yet another whodunnit that will keep the reader guessing right until the very last chapter. Her latest page-turner, The Therapist, unfolds with deep insight into the characters and some flashbacks. Told in first person by protagonist Alice Dawson, the novel gives us an inside look at how mundane, everyday life can entangle people and become real scary real fast.

Alice and her partner, Leo Curtis, are 30-somethings who meet when he accidentally crashes into her car. After becoming involved in a long-distance dating situation, the pair decide to take their relationship to the next level by moving in together to a spacious renovated house in an exclusive area of London. Though it’s everything the happy couple dreamed of, they are plagued by feelings of being watched in their new home, despite its being located in a gated community.

Quickly, the story develops with neighbors Tamsin, Eve, Will, Connor, Maria, Tim, Lorna and Edward when Alice throws a last-minute housewarming party. Paris’ character analysis is in depth, and these neighbors feel like they could very well be our own neighbors. On the day of the drinks party, a stranger drops by; how he is admitted and who he really is remains a mystery for a bit. Mistaking him for Maria’s husband, Tim, Alice shows him the house complete with renovations. The trouble is, none of her neighbors witness this stranger’s arrival or departure and finally, Lorna admits to accidentally letting him into the close-knit community. Fear and suspense brew below the surface of the story until the reader learns about Nina Maxwell. A caring therapist, Nina was the beautiful neighbor who was brutally murdered. Nina’s husband, Oliver, was accused of her death and he committed suicide.

Alice’s entire world is turned upside down as she discovers that Nina was killed in the very house she and Leo just moved into! Her own sister, who perished mysteriously with their parents in a car accident, was also named Nina, so when Alice hears about the former neighbor Nina’s death, she becomes obsessed with the case. Enter private detective Thomas Grainger, hired to research Oliver’s innocence. He confesses to being the mysterious Tim from the house party, and soon Alice begins to trust him even as her mistrust of Leo increases.

Convinced that Leo must not have known about the house’s bloodstained past, she is shaken to her core to discover that Leo not only knew but jumped on the chance to buy it! Ben Forbes, the real estate agent who sold Leo the house, is caught in the middle when he reveals the truth to Alice. She realizes that the neighbors must think of her as insensitive and money-oriented. Devastated, Alice can no longer sleep in the house. Through realistic prose, the reader glimpses much of Alice’s feelings, thoughts and fears. As an author, Paris is the master of human emotions and her main character is one the reader cannot help but feel empathetic toward.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that Leo went ahead and bought the house despite knowing about the murder, it seems too incredible. How could he be all right with it? …What makes it worse is that he lied to Ben about having told me.” As Alice continues the narrative, love, friendship and deception comingle in this story of ordinary people–neighbors, friends, and lovers–who keep secrets from each other. Everyone conspires to not mention Nina’s horrible death to Alice, and the lies just compound from that point onward.

Alice decides not to be truthful about the detective, Thomas, instead telling everyone that it was a nosy reporter who prompted her meddling into the mysterious murder. Alice’s despair and mistrust complicate her relationship with Leo. She, too, holds her own secrets from him, and the great reveal will make you wonder what else the two lovebirds are lying about! In between the numbered chapters are a few flashbacks titled Past and written from the point of view of the therapist, but just which therapist is it? Nina Maxwell, the murder victim or her unknown therapist that she consulted at the time of her murder? It’s the novelist’s nod to the book title’s clever ambiguity.

With believable dialogue, the characters are relatable. A few plot twists and eerie pasts keep the audience guessing. No one is above suspicion; all have their own agendas, and many are not who they appear to be. B. A. Paris is known for her suspense stories, and the ending will leave you astounded.