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Friday, September 30, 2022

Thrillers of the month – review | Thrillers

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Gillian McAllister
Michael Joseph, £14.99, pp416

It’s 30 October and Jen is waiting for her 18-year-old son, Todd, to come home. It’s 1am, and he’s late, but she isn’t too worried – at least, no more than any mother would be. Watching from the window, she notices him and smiles – then sees the man following him. Rushing on to the street with her husband, Kelly, she watches as Todd stabs the man three times.

Jen wakes up the next morning, after a night at the police station, ready to fight, to hire lawyers, to try to understand how she had “come to raise a murderer. Teenage rage. Knife crime. Gangs. Antifa. Which is it? Which hand have they been dealt?” She is, she thinks, “an excellent rescuer, has spent all of her life doing just that, and now it’s time to help her son”. But, as she slowly comes to realise, the impossible has happened. It is 28 October and Todd has yet to kill anyone.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time follows Jen, a divorce lawyer, as she moves back slowly, and then faster, through time, investigating what might have led Todd to commit murder, and trying to prevent it. She finds a knife in his bag – and takes it out. Will that be enough to send her back to her own timeline? “She has the knife. Perhaps it has been stopped. Whatever it is. Perhaps she will wake and it will be tomorrow. The day after. Anything but today again.”

But she wakes and it is two days earlier. She digs into the life of Todd’s mysterious new girlfriend Clio, and investigates who the murdered man is – or was. In doing so, she discovers uncomfortable truths about her own relationship with her son; the times she wasn’t there for him because of work, the times she didn’t listen. Can she correct these mistakes? And how can she halt her tumble through time?

McAllister handles her Liverpool-set twist on Russian Doll and Groundhog Day with great skill. There are delightful moments as when Jen tries desperately to convince her husband of what’s going on. He’s sceptical – until she takes him to the site of a car crash she couldn’t possibly know about, and they watch as her prediction comes true. Or when she meets a physicist who specialises in time travel and – time after exhausting time – manages to get him onside. Jen is a convincing, appealing protagonist: harried and guilty, like all mothers, she is given the chance to experience her son’s life again. Can she make it better?

Messing with time travel isn’t for the faint-hearted novelist, but McAllister pulls off this adventure with aplomb. Tightly plotted, moving backwards through missing babies and criminal gangs and a sinister antagonist to its extremely satisfying conclusion, it is also, in many ways, a moving love story. I’ve had Covid all week and still couldn’t put it down: don’t miss it.

Jack Jordan
Simon & Schuster, £18, pp432

First we had, in TJ Newman’s Falling, the pilot whose family is taken hostage and who is told he must either crash the plane or see them die. Now Jack Jordan’s Do No Harm gives us surgeon Dr Anna Jones, whose eight-year-old son, Zack, is kidnapped, and who is told she must kill a high-profile patient on the operating table or her boy will be murdered. The doctor’s home has been filled with hidden cameras, and there are people watching to ensure she doesn’t inform the police. Fortunately for Zack, his mother – a complex and intriguing protagonist – is an extremely intelligent, highly capable woman who is willing to go to great lengths to save him, making for a gripping and tense thriller.

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