Her perfect new start just became her biggest nightmare…
Opening the door to her new home, Libby can’t believe she can afford such a beautiful place. As her new landlord follows her into the bright, open living room, watching her every move, she feels so lucky she spotted the ad online.
‘You’re just the tenant I’ve been looking for,’ the landlord tells her as he drops the keys into her hand. Libby smiles as she unpacks her small suitcase and thinks about the troubled life she has just walked out on.
Days later, Libby is woken by the sound of her neighbours arguing through the wall. As she listens to their angry words, she swears she hears her name mentioned. Why would they be talking about her?
As the weeks pass, Libby can’t help but feel that someone is watching her and when she hears that the last girl who rented her apartment before her vanished without trace, she starts to double lock her door every night. Then she finds a handwritten message in her apartment telling her she’s in danger, and her new home no longer feels like the safe haven it once was. Did someone from Libby’s past follow her here? And just how safe is she behind closed doors?
The Houseshare is a rework of To Let, which was previously published by the same author.
Carla started writing more seriously ten years ago after having flirted with musical theatre and occasional writing in her youth.
Since then, she has written & produced several stage plays, has four self-published books, has acted in several independent films and is in the final stages of production of her feature horror film, Penny for the Guy.
Carla now writes full time as well as co-owning a film, photography & video production company located in the heart of Redditch town centre. She has also more recently re-connected with her love of drawing and painting.
“Libby’s job in recruitment is a job I’ve actually done myself during my early working years. I can laugh at this now, but I remember being in the office with one of my colleagues back then, when someone threatened to smash the office windows because of a slight wage mix up. I have memories of locking the main doors and closing the blinds while waiting to see if this person would actually turn up. He never did. Of course, my situation wasn’t as scary as Libby’s, but it got me thinking about the what ifs and that drove the writing of this book”
TWENTY YEARS AGO
“Again, I sit in a toilet cubicle crying my eyes out. PE always does this to me. I’m not good at it and the names they call me stick. No, I can’t run well, and I can’t get a ball into a hoop but is that a reason to make my life a misery? Then there’s the other things like me always being mistaken for less than my fourteen years. I know I’m sinewy and bony and whatever else they like to tease me with. Wiping away the last of my tears with the coarse school toilet roll, I feel my burning face, knowing that it’s red and blotchy”
LIBBY – PRESENT TIME MONDAY, 10 JANUARY
“Libby broke into a jog as she turned into Grover Street, knowing she was running late on such a big day but that was nothing new. With each footstep, a splash of slush found its way into her boot and her cat, Einstein, meowed like he was about to be bathed. As she stopped, her foot squelched. No wonder she couldn’t feel her ice-cold toes anymore. The twenty-minute train delay had been the cause of her anguish. She could kick herself for never learning to drive. At thirty-one years of age, she should have her life sorted but Libby operated in a stressed-out bubble and the sheer thought of driving on a busy road filled her with fear. Everything was not going to plan and the van containing all her worldly belongings would arrive soon”
“The difficult thing was she could remember all the good times, but she also knew they were all a big lie that had driven her mad; she’d even doubted her own sanity when he’d spun lie after lie. He’d taken her to places she didn’t want to revisit, ever”
“He was capable of more than she could imagine. She knew nothing about the man she once lived with”
“You’re right. I should have just told him. It’s always best to know the truth even if it’s not what a person wants to hear”
“I feel as though I’m being watched. The house feels alive with its past, only I can’t see what has happened before”
“Why is it that good people never get love? They have to fight for it. Then they give it their all only for their hearts to be trampled on. She’s trampled on mine and crushed it”
“Her perfect new start… or her worst nightmare?”
You know when you get that strong feeling of deja vu? Well, that’s what happened to me almost as soon as I began reading this story. It definitely wasn’t that I had read the previously published version of the book, then titled The Let, so I can only conclude that the premise is very similar to that written by another author and I am still trawling through my review index to root it out, as I am a bit like a dog with a bone about things which niggle away at me!
However, coincidences aside, one of my favourite genres will always be that of heart-pounding, tense psychological thrillers and this one didn’t disappoint. Just to bring you up to speed a little, but not in too much detail, as ‘spoilers’ are never too far away from the surface here…
Libby Worthington, together with her cat Einstein, have finally taken the plunge and escaped from a mentally coercive and physically abusive relationship with Gary, although it soon becomes apparent that he isn’t going to let her get away from his clutches that easily, or without a fight. Libby’s older sister Olly, whom she idolises and looks up to, has managed to find her a small and anonymous house share flat, where she can take time to lick her wounds, before starting to rebuild a new life for herself. The set-up is just what Libby needs right now, four flats, one of which is lived in by the landlord Tim Simmons (who she has to admit is quite cute), making her feel safe and secure.
Everything would be great, if only technology and social media weren’t so darned good at keeping tabs on a person. Gary is never silent and on top of that, one of Libby’s clients, Trevor, who is on the books of the recruitment company where she works, has begun a personal vendetta against her for a minor error in his payroll, which was corrected almost immediately. The two girls, Kirsty and Michaela, who share one of the downstairs flats, together with Tim, Olly and Chrissie (one of Libby’s more mature work colleagues), all offer her their full support in moving forward with her life, so Libby takes the plunge and disconnects her private profile from prying eyes.
Even though the illusive fourth tenant of the house, one Mr Bull, has still never been seen, for a short while life moves on quite smoothly for Libby. Then things begin to go awry, as personal belongings inside her flat are misplaced or lost, Einstein goes missing and she gets the idea into her head that her every move is being watched. Olly and Libby had a very complicated and rather traumatic childhood, with Olly taking on more of the role of surrogate mother, rather than big sister, so she seeks to reassure a very vulnerable Libby that there is really nothing to worry about. However, when Ricardo makes contact with Libby, claiming that his daughter Bettina, the previous tenant in her flat, has gone missing without trace and what little information Ricardo does have to share doesn’t tally with Tim’s version of events, it is obvious that there is cause for concern, especially when Libby’s unwanted voyeur ups the ante, Ricardo himself goes missing and Olly is left for dead by an assailant she can identify.
Inexplicably, Libby discovers articles about events which took place during her own and Olly’s school days, which points to there being more than meets the eye to her landlord’s chequered past and indeed potentially, that of her own sister. A hidden message left by a clearly petrified Bettina, leads Libby to a discovery so terrible, it is clear that she will have to fight with all her strength to escape in one piece, if at all. Meanwhile Kirsty realises that her own judgement about people has been severely challenged and found wanting, when Michaela shows her true colours and her part in the scheme to trap Libby is revealed.
The end for some is dramatic, final and probably what they deserved. For others there are only answers and closure, as nothing can turn back the hands of time and change fate. For a small group there is a renewed strength of the bonds of family and friendship, which will inevitably last far beyond the trauma of the last few weeks.
I realise that doesn’t give you much to go on, however there are so many twists in this gripping, disturbing, swiftly evolving and multi-layered storyline, that to write anything else would be sure to give the game away to some degree.
I did get fooled by a craftily clever and deliberately vague prologue, which set me off on completely the wrong track for a while, although it made for an excellent opening sequence, as it tracked back twenty years to the beginning, with events which were never going to be forgotten by some or allowed to remain unavenged. The opening chapters were spent carefully setting the scene with more of those sneakily laid red herrings, which did exactly what they were supposed to do, tripping me up and sending my thoughts off at the wrong tangent every time. More creepy twists and turns led to a couple of “Wow! I never saw that coming!” moments right near the end, despite me knowing who the perpetrator was by then.
I did feel that the plot was maybe a little melodramatic in places, however that, together with some fluent and immersive writing, only helped to create a wonderfully oppressive tension and claustrophobic atmosphere, which ran throughout the book. That feeling of not being safe behind closed doors, of being constantly watched and ‘played’ by an unseen and unknown nemesis. This was a story built on lies, secrets, duplicity, long buried emotions and manipulated versions of the truth. No matter where Libby went, the air seemed thick with tension, as if she somehow managed to suck all the oxygen out of a space, with her permanent aura of impending dread and menace over just about everything, which was emotionally draining for us both, although her extreme angst was fully vindicated with the deeply dark and disturbing way events ultimately played out.
Author Carla Kovach explored many different psychological issues with her characters and illustrated the long-term effects, vulnerabilities and scars some of those events might have left. A fractured and abusive childhood which left both Libby and Olly distant from parents they know full well never wanted them. A perpetrator who had been relentlessly bullied by their fellow pupils and peers during those very formative years, with teachers finding it convenient to turn a blind eye to the truth, and who was still therefore unable to move on from the situation. Libby’s fear of being trapped in a toxic and abusive relationship with the manipulative powers of Gary’s gaslighting techniques making it almost impossible for her to disengage from the situation. The shame yet physical relief which came with Libby’s self-harming as an escape mechanism for her frustration and fear. The relentless pain which comes from having a child go missing in mysterious, unexplained and unusual circumstances on foreign soil.
For those readers who relish the ‘armchair traveller’ status which comes along with a good premise and interesting characters, this storyline might not be quite enough to satisfy. However, within the confines of its single location of Birmingham City, Carla made the most of the opportunity to use plenty of descriptive narrative and dialogue, to make me feel as though I was walking the streets alongside the characters, seeing what they were seeing and feeling what was happening to them.
Carla created an excellent cast of characters, who were obviously divided into two distinct halves. There were those who were complex, emotionally starved, vulnerable and even a little naive. Whilst this might have made them a somewhat unreliable, raw and passionate, they were nonetheless genuine or believable. Then there were those characters who were innately wickedly clever, genuinely twisted, manipulative and duplicitous, with the only certainty in this particular jigsaw of human emotions, being that their own volatility would be their eventual downfall. Whilst all were authentic to the roles they had been assigned and were well-defined and fleshed out, I felt that there was little or no synergy between them, offering me no compelling reason to relate to, invest in, or engage with any of them.
I always enjoy psychological thrillers written by an author who has a wonderfully twisted style of storytelling, making for an unputdownable reading experience, so this definitely won’t be my one and only foray into Carla Kovach’s book list!
A complimentary Kindle download of this book, for review purposes, was made available by publisher Bookouture and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you so much for taking time to read my review, I appreciate your support.