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A suspenseful tale of a woman who rents out the small cottage behind her house to a mysterious young stranger, Joy Fielding’s latest novel is about trusting and not trusting one’s instincts. A New York Times best-selling author, Fielding has a well-deserved reputation as a writer who knows how to get the reader hooked. From the first page, you can’t put it down.
In the same way, Terry Painter is hooked from the very first meeting with her prospective new tenant. Forty and single, Terry has a quiet and ordered life in picturesque Delray, Florida. A nurse at Mission Care private hospital for the elderly and disabled, loved by her patients for her kindness and thoughtfulness, she lives alone in the comfortable house she inherited from her mother five years ago, and rents out the cottage behind it. Alison Simms spots the rental notice posted in the hospital, and blows into Terry’s life like a tropical storm. In her twenties, tall and slim, full of open charm and infectiously enthusiastic, Alison is impossible not to like. “It would be nice having someone around who made me laugh,” thinks Terry.
Alison loves the cottage, right down to the colour combination, and moves in immediately. Terry, usually responsible and pragmatic, surprises herself for failing even to ask for references, but she is drawn instinctively to Alison, and realises she wants her to stay. Alison fills a gap in her life, bringing friendship and warmth. With her sweet tooth and ravenous appetite, the young woman gratefully devours Terry’s home cooking and buys her generous gifts. She even gives her a makeover and a flattering new haircut, helping Terry charm the handsome son of one of her dear, ailing patients. Alison, full of life, brightens the days that are usually spent caring for the old and the sick. Despite the difference in their ages, the two women are comfortable together; it feels like they’ve been friends forever.
Yet almost simultaneously, Terry begins to have suspicions about Alison. How much does she know about her, really? Alison has some strange habits and stranger friends. She has a limitless supply of cash in her purse, and knows the house so well it’s as if she’s been in it before. Her reasons for coming to Delray don’t quite add up, and she won’t talk about her parents: “We weren’t on the best of terms.” Moreover, Terry notices a shadowy figure lurking around her house, and starts to receive disturbing phone calls. Snippets of overheard conversation, surreptitious glances in Alison’s diary, and her mother’s nagging voice in her head make Terry paranoid that her tenant may want to do her harm.
Should Terry have been more suspicious, or at least wary, especially after the experience with her last tenant? And yet, as Alison says of the neighbour’s pet dogs, “How could anything that sweet be destructive?” And who is hiding more, Alison -- or Terry?
Diving deeply into the psyches of her most captivating characters to date, Joy Fielding has created a riveting tale that challenges our most basic assumptions regarding love, friendship, and obsession. It leaves the reader guessing at where the truth really lies until the final shocking twist that Publishers Weekly has called “an ending worthy of Hitchcock”. Fielding delivers an intelligent, tight plot full of psychological complexity, without sacrificing the simple prose and page-turning suspense she is known for around the world.