Some of the best crime fiction is about what happens when you step out of your door and into another person’s space, into their personal domain. Because, as we all know, in crime fiction other people are trouble.
And let’s face it, we expose ourselves to a lot of Stranger Danger, these days. Airbnb, house-sitting and holiday swaps — we’ve never had so many opportunities to step into the shoes of other people, to discover the dark secrets of other families.
Siobhan MacDonald’s novel Twisted River, published by Canelo, is about just that: what happens when two families swap lives.
Kate and Mannix O’Brian live in a lovely Limerick house they can barely afford. Their autistic son is being bullied and their daughter Izzy is desperately trying to protect him. When Kate spots a gorgeous New York flat on a home-exchange website, she is convinced her luck is about to change…
Hazel and Oscar Harvey and their two children live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Though they seem successful on the surface, Hazel’s mysterious bruises and Oscar’s secrets tell another story. With Hazel keen to revisit her native Limerick, the house swap seems almost too perfect.
When Oscar discovers the body of a woman in the boot of his hosts’ car, he realises this will be anything but a perfect break. And the body is just the beginning.
Irish writer Siobhan’s debut novel is inspired by her own experiences of holidays gone wrong. In this fascinating guest post, she talks about how entering someone else’s space can have dangerous consequences…
Isn’t it ironic that adults are so often at pains to warn children of the hazards of speaking to strangers and yet so many are heedless of their own advice?
“Never talk to strangers,” “Never get into a car with a stranger”, “Never take sweets from a stranger” – all warnings given to children. At the time of writing, ‘The Guardian’ is reporting multiple sightings of strangers stopping to offer lifts to children on their way to schools in Southwest London. Parents have been alerted to caution their children about this alarming activity.
However, that same advice doled out to children is often ignored by the adult community. There was a time when on-line dating was regarded as the preserve of the desperate and bewildered. Not so now – it’s commonplace with many happily using such services.
A number of years ago a journalist friend joined a dating site as a research exercise. Despite professing online to being unattached, most of the men she encountered were married. Hardly a crime, but it does go to show how people misrepresent themselves and their intentions online.
Sadly, in the past few years there have been a number of high profile incidents involving young women coming into contact with predatory strangers in nightclubs, only to meet their end after a single brief encounter. All the more tragic as nightclubs should be places where people can relax and have fun. Precisely too why such strangers prowl here, seeking out those who’ve let their guard down.
In one tragic case in Ireland, one such woman was killed in a hotel bedroom by a man -who unknown to her – was out on bail for violent offences. She’d met him in a nightclub earlier.
There is also the recent tragic story of the student nurse who became separated from her friends in a nightclub only to fall foul of the deadly intentions of a stranger who lured her to her death.
Stranger-danger is not confined to unusual situations. Indeed, malign intent often lurks behind a comfortable and familiar façade. Our guard drops and we relax when a situation seems familiar and unthreatening. Antennae are dulled and warning signs are missed.
A teacher friend recently recounted how to her shame, she blatantly ignored the advice she regularly metes out to the children in her care. As she went jogging in a familiar neighbourhood, an elderly man flagged her down on the pavement. He said his wife had recently died and he had a problem with his washing machine. He reckoned a sock was stuck in the filter and his hands were too large to release it. Would she take a look?
Although it was an unusual request, she felt sorry for the bereaved man and thought of the good Samaritan. As the door shut behind her, she felt a shudder of unease. The road had been quiet and no-one had seen her enter the house.
The elderly man had been right. There was indeed a sock stuck in the filter that she managed to free. As she handed it to him, he remarked how he’d been watching her from an upstairs window as she jogged down the road, and thought she looked like a person with small hands. Following that remark came noises from upstairs. “That’s my son getting up,” said the man. “Like the side of a house, he is. His hands would never do. I’ll call him down to meet you.”
Instantly, she regretted her decision and thought how foolish she’d been. Tripping over piles of laundry in the hallway, she made for the front-door, rushing past the man who she’d assumed was living alone.
Out on the street, she thought to how she’d scold any child in her class were they to do anything similar. It was a seemingly innocent request but it only struck her afterwards how differently things could have turned out.
Whether it’s the pub, the nightclub, online, the daily train commute, or even in what may be a familiar neighbourhood, we should heed the sage advice we give to children – strangers should be treated with caution.
Twisted River is published by Canelo in ebook, priced at £1.99.