From My Shelf of Read Books by Louise Candlish

My first introduction to Louise Candlish books was, Our House, then Those People, and I enjoyed both. I recently read The Heights (my favorite) and The Other Passenger (my least favorite). If you are looking for fun, entertaining, unlikable characters with exciting plots and twisty turns to the stories, I highly recommend them all.

Reading the two back to back, I realized Candlish has a pattern to her books while using elements of a psychological thriller/suspense that I like. So I decided to take a look at all the books I had read by her and do one post with them all.

Patterns I have noticed

  • Louise Candlish is the queen of annoying, unlikable characters that you will enjoy or find too much to be in your head.
  • She uses unique and interesting settings or backdrops that add dynamics to the mystery and characters.
  • You need to be on your toes if you like to figure out where the story is going and those signature twists and turns. She leaves some clues and leads you down a path just to pull the rug out from under you.
  • She uses innovative narrative techniques which plays with the perspectives and different forms that kept readers guessing.

Some characters types she uses

  • The seemingly earnest flawed unreliable character to root for
  • the unlikable annoying selfish character
  • the middle age man sleeping with a younger woman

The Heights

Published in March 2022/Read April 2022

The hook, setting/backdrop, pace and themes: Was the story a page-turner?

Yes!! The Heights is a discreet, tall, slender apartment building among warehouses in an up-and-coming London neighborhood that is used as a backdrop for the story and creates some dynamics between the characters. It’s a great place to live if you are hiding from your past, and it’s unlikely anyone will see you on your terrace at the top of the building. BUT Ellen, while visiting a client in the building across, spots a man, Kieran, on a balcony who shouldn’t be there, and she recognizes him right away as “the monster who destroyed her life.”

I was hooked and clicked the pages as fast as possible right from that opening. The story follows a psychological thriller/suspense pacing, starting slowly while increasing doubt and giving us time to get into Ellen’s head. It does drag a bit in the middle and feels repetitive, and we spend too much time in Ellen’s head.

The Heights has some of my favorite themes I love in a psychological thriller/suspense: obsession revenge, deception, injustice, grief, and parenting.

Structure: We get snippets from an article written for the Sunday times that introduces us to a workshop for writers “designed to explore the impact crime has had on their lives.” Then we get chapters of Ellen’s manuscript flashing back to the time when her son, Lucas, was high school friends with Kieran, and we see why she is obsessed with revenge and then from the perspective of Ellen’s former partner and Lucas’s father, Vic.

The characters: Are they likeable, or unlikeable with flaws that can be easily related to? Was I able to get into their heads and enjoy what I saw? 

The characters follow Louise Candlish signature annoying, unlikeable characters that you could find too irritating to like. I thought they were compelling characters with flaws and conflicts that increased the doubt needed to drive the story forward.

Ellen is that seemingly earnest, sympathetic, flawed, unreliable character to root for. Still, she is a bit much and overwritten with her one-track mindset on revenge that was played repeatedly. However, I could relate to how she fixated on something, and her mind went around and around repeating the same things, unable to let go of her anxiety. I can be a bit much, and no one would want to be in my head. She also characterizes every mother’s fear that we can’t keep our children safe or from bad people from influencing them.

Kieran is a disadvantaged teenage boy who earns a scholarship to the posh academy Ellen’s son Lucas attends. He could be that unlikable, annoying, selfish character or a seemingly earnest, sympathetic, flawed, unreliable character. Or maybe it’s Vic, but he is definitely that character who is sleeping with a younger woman. That’s part of the fun here, trying to figure out if Ellen’s obsessive thoughts are reliable or not.

Battle of wits: What and who made up the battle of wits element to the story? Did the unreliable narrator element increase enough doubt to keep me guessing who was telling the truth?  

The story relies heavily on that increasing doubt with every turn of the story, and the uncertainty enhances the suspense and tension as Ellen and Kieran battle wits. Not knowing how reliable Ellen’s narrative is increases doubt about who is telling the truth or can be a trusted character. I was questioning what was real or what was Ellen’s anxiety and if Ellen’s obsession with revenge clouded her judgment.

Believability element: Did it blur the lines between fiction and reality with a believability element that made me think it could happen? 

Yes, however it does push the plausibility of one turn to the ending but the final twist made up for that.

Pay off: Was the story layered with clues to see some of the twists and turns coming with a rewarding pay off in the end? 

Yes!!! My head was spinning, trying to figure out if Ellen, Kieran, or both who couldn’t be trusted. I was focused on who was hiding what, and the clues were there to see what was coming. I thought I did, and I was not too fond of the direction I thought the story was going; however, Candlish pulled the rug out from under me with a rewarding final twist. While I found the ending plausible because the clues were there, some parts were not believable.

The Other Passenger

Published in July 2021/Listen April 2022/Format: Audiobook (the way to go for this one)

The hook, setting/backdrop, pace and themes: Was the story a page-turner?

Jamie and Kit commute to work on a river bus every day. Kit doesn’t show up one morning and as Jamie departs the river bus he is met by two police officers who question him about Kit’s disappearance. Jamie and his partner Clare live in a Georgian townhouse by the river in an up-and-coming neighborhood, while Kit and Melia rent a standard one-bed flat not far on the wrong side of the tracks, which they can barely afford. Things start to get interesting when we see they will do anything to raise their status.

After reading The Heights, I expected a page-turner and was disappointed it was not. The hook here was not much of an angle for me to keep me wanting to turn the pages. Like all psychological thrillers, the story builds up slowly, but it feels more dragged out rather than building the suspense and tension needed to drive the story forward, and the pace didn’t pick up.

I liked all the themes explored: class structure, generations (Gen X versus Millennial), jealousy, the haves and have-nots, and social pressure.

Structure: Louise Candlish doesn’t use her signature innovative narrative or forms that I love.
The story is told from Jamie’s POV in two timelines. In flashbacks, we see into the building relationship between Jamie, Clare and Melia, and Kit, which felt dragged out and in the present as the story unfolds after Kit disappears.

The characters: Are they likeable, or unlikeable with flaws that can be easily related to? Was I able to get into their heads and enjoy what I saw? 

Louise Candlish follows her signature annoying and unlikeable characters, but none in a good, exciting way. Jamie has some flaws and strengths that make him sympathetic and easy to relate to; however, he is a middle-aged man sleeping with a younger woman, Milia. His irresponsibility and contentment at working in a coffee shop contrast Clare’s feelings of superiority, and I liked that part about him. We stayed in his head, and I didn’t enjoy what I saw because I couldn’t get past his thoughts toward younger Milia, which made it hard to root for him.

Kit and Milia are the unlikable, annoying, selfish characters, and Milia is a femme fatale character making her the most unlikeable character. I am not a fan of that trope.

Battle of wits: What and who made up the battle of wits element to the story? Did the unreliable narrator element increase enough doubt to keep me guessing who was telling the truth?  

Jamie and Kit battle wits here; however, Louise Candlish has some surprises that had me thinking that Jamie, Clare, Kit, and Milia were battling wits in different ways with each other throughout the story. This increased that element of doubt and had me questioning who was telling the truth and who wasn’t.

Believability element: Did it blur the lines between fiction and reality with a believability element that made me think it could happen? 

The story didn’t feel convincing or realistic and felt more like entertaining fiction.

Pay off: Was the story layered with clues to see some of the twists and turns coming with a rewarding pay off in the end? 

No, I thought the clues were there, but the story’s twists and turns felt convoluted and overdone. I had a hard time following the story’s twists and turns, and I gave up, so when the rug was pulled out from under me, I wasn’t on it. It felt like the story should have ended a couple of chapters earlier, and the ending was dragged out with more of a turn rather than a twist. The payoff was that the story ended.

Those People

Published/Read June 2019

The hook, Setting, pace and themes: Was the story a page-turner?

Can you relate to those loud neighbor living beside you? Do you ever wonder “Could you hate your neighbor enough to plot to kill them?” Louise Candlish takes us to dreamy suburban Lowland Way where the houses are beautiful and the neighbors all get along. Until the new neighbors move in. They are loud, begin doing renovations, and run a business from their yard. The is slow building as we get to know both sides of “those people” and soon tempers are flaring and hostilities escalate and the characters are driven to their breaking points.

Structure: The mystery unfolds slowly from alternating perspectives as we meet the neighbors.

The characters: We have a whole neighborhood of annoying unlikable characters. However it’s not the characters themselves that create the dynamics, it is the neighborhood that does. We see a dark side to human social interaction.

Battle of wits: The story has us against them battle of wits. Darren and Jodie the neighbors from hell battle the rest of neighbors until things turn deadly. At times my head was spinning with those twisty turns the story took and how I felt about the characters shifted as we started to see them conflicted and reacting to each other’s behaviour.

Pay off: Just when I thought I had a few things figured, Louise Candlish pulls the rug out from under me again with a rewarding payoff of a twist.

Believability element: The dynamics is convincing as tempers are flaring and hostilities escalate and the characters are driven to their breaking points, however things do feel a little over the top at times.

Our House

Published/read in Aug 2018

The hook, pace and themes: Was the story a page-turner?

Fiona Lawson has recently split with her husband Bram and has a “bird’s nest” custody arrangement for her two sons.  This allows Fiona and Bram to stay in the marital home separately with their sons a few nights each week.   One day, Fiona arrives at the house earlier than expected to find a young couple moving their belongings in.   Bram, her children and personal belongings are nowhere to be found. What transpires afterward is a turn of events that will keep you guessing. ~from Lindsay’s review

Louise Candlish does a great job here creating a different angle to a domestic suspense with a plot that revolves around a house. At times the house becomes the center of the story and we start to see some dymactics between the house and Fiona. ~Brenda

Unfortunately, the story lost its spark by the halfway point and began to drag and feel repetitious. The back and forth narratives became too detailed and many paragraphs and pages felt like unnecessary detail which took away from the suspenseful intensity ~Lindsay

Themes of betrayal, lies, secrets guilt and status are explored

Structure: The story is told from Fi and Bram’s POV in different formats. Fi’s is through a podcast called The Victim, and Bram’s is through a word document detailing what that led to his betrayal.

The characters: Well, it’s a give in to say the characters here are annoying unlikable and these characters were not that easy to connect to. Fiona is the seemingly earnest flawed unreliable character to root for. Bram’s is that was extremely selfish and irritating character and I found his sections grew to become frustrating to read ~Lindsay. He is also the middle age man sleeping with a younger woman.

Believability element: The premise is entertaining and unique but not all that plausible.

Pay off: You need a little patience to get to that payoff and the twists are not shocking but twisty 

Penny for your thoughts!! Have you read any? Were the characters to annoying for you?

2 thoughts on “From My Shelf of Read Books by Louise Candlish”

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