On one level it’s a perfectly efficient suspense novel, in which a young couple fall prey to the psychopaths next door, but at another level, I think it touched a raw-nerve with me, which is perhaps why it’s been such a success. Edwards has tapped into something quite fundamental about the relationship with have with our homes.
But first, some blurb:
When Jamie and Kirsty move into their first home together they are full of optimism. The future, in which they plan to get married and start a family, is bright. The other residents of their building seem friendly too, including the Newtons, a married couple who welcome them to the building with open arms.
But then strange things start to happen. Dead rats are left on their doorstep. They hear disturbing noises, and much worse, in the night. After Jamie’s best friend is injured in a horrific accident, Jamie and Kirsty find themselves targeted by a campaign of terror.
As Jamie and Kirsty are driven to the edge of despair, Jamie vows to fight back – but he has no idea what he is really up against…
Once all the thriller stuff kicked in I was perfectly fine with The Magpies, but the first third or so of the book made me tense.
One of the contracts we have with society is that, no matter what shit we have to put up with on the street, once we close the door to our home, it’s our space, our nest. We invest huge amounts of money in flats and houses and gardens on the understanding that we’ll be given the space and privacy to relax. Our homes are like manifestations of the insides of our heads. We demand and expect peace and quiet. It’s where we live out our dreams, and where we invest in the future. It’s a cave: a primal place of safety, a sacred place, our own personal piece of paradise.
It’s why we abhor burglary above many other crimes. It’s why we shudder when we read about neighbour disputes in the tabloids. It’s why we love going to see home-invasion movies like The Purge or Funny Games. But unfortunately, more often than not we’re piled high on top of each other, in cheap builds with thin walls and communal spaces.
And Edwards seems to understand that. He knows that if you mess with a man’s sense of home you’re fucking with his head. The author is careful to describe The Magpies as a psychological thriller, and although I’ve got a few issues with the crime thriller elements of the book, it does a damned good job of building a sense of disquiet and foreboding, and of describing how a pair of strangers on the other side of a wall can take apart all your hopes and dreams.
So we spend a lot of time inside of Jamie’s head as his initial bewilderment gives way to disquiet, anxiety, and then the horror of the situation he and Kirsty find themselves in.
What’s really interesting is that the book was inspired by an experience Edwards – he usually writes with Louise Voss, and this is his first solo novel – had with some former neighbours, which just goes to show that even that most unpleasant of experiences can be used to feed your creativity. He writes about it here, it’s worth a read.
What I liked: Having written scripts and screenplays, I sometimes grapple with pacing in my prose and find it difficult not to rush through scenes in my novel. Edwards understands that in a good novel of suspense, the build-up to a calamity is just as important as the event itself.
So the attacks on Jamie and Kirsty aren’t constant, but punctuated by periods of time which build awful feelings of foreboding and dread. Worming inside the head of your characters, cranking up the tension and anxiety inside them, taking apart their hopes and dreams, can be more interesting to read than any action set-piece or violent episode.
And what about you? Have you ever had an experience and thought: blow me, that’d make a good novel!