When picking up a novel to publish, the first thing publishers will look for is to have their attention caught and maintained throughout the first few pages. A writer could have the most wonderful story ever written, but if it doesn’t have a strong beginning, it probably won’t see the light of day. Even if a writer were to self-publish, the audience would loss interest very quickly. However, Dreda Say Mitchell was able to catch the attention of the publisher, Bloodhound Books, by opening Spare Room with an unknown man contemplating suicide, shortly accompanied by an advert for a tenant.
The story follows Lisa, a young woman with a troubled past, looking for a room to rent in London. She seems to have found just what she is looking for when she finds a beautiful room in a large house owned by Martha and Jack, the former being a refined older woman and the latter a young, odd lad who does household work. Everything seems to be working out perfectly for Lisa until she finds a suicide note, seemingly from the room’s previous occupier. However, when she asks the couple about him, they deny this man’s existence and Lisa begins to doubt herself. All the more determined to discover the truth, she begins to uncover secrets about the house’s past – and her own.
Lisa is an interesting protagonist to follow during this narrative. She comes from a family who is financially comfortable and is currently working as a software engineer for a bank. However, despite being successful, she has her own demons; suffering from depression, mentally and physically scarred from her youth, she is the perfect fit for such a dark tale, as the characters doubt her motivations, believing her mental ailments to affect her perception of the world around her. Even the reader will find themselves questioning what is real until the final chapters.
The language of the Spare Room is eloquent. The plot has a contemporary setting, with a lot of modern references. The author herself is very well-versed in the world of thrillers, winning the Crime Writing Association’s John Creasy Dagger Award for the best time crime novel in 2004, and her knowledge in the field is apparent, using all her past experience to craft this piece.
Spare Room is a winding and dark book to go through. As soon as Lisa discovers the note in her room, the plot takes many sharp turns, at times stretching to the point of confusion, where the reader may have to look back a couple of pages to confirm they read a particular detail correctly and that they didn’t miss something. At first, this may be a bit jarring and can easily throw some readers off, but don’t worry too much about it. Mitchell is clearly a talented writer and this feeling of confusion has been done on purpose, adding to the atmosphere and, like any good thriller author, she ties it up altogether in the end.
Spare Room is a well written psychological thriller that has some vicious plot twists that will leave the reader questioning reality along with the story’s protagonist.