What would you do if your child disappears with no trace? To anyone who is a parent, no matter how old your children are now, this is a horror scenario. Imagine a child of only two years old, one moment sitting in her buggy, inside the house, and the next she’s gone. No matter how hard you search, no matter how many people are looking for her. She’s gone.
When lockdowns started, and my stress levels were too high — these two were unrelated — a friend recommended me to listen to audiobooks. I took the advice and literally got hooked on listening to books when I go to bed. Yes, I fall asleep when listening, and then just ‘rewind’ the book when I continue to listen the next night. On average, it takes about two months to listen to a book.
The Housewarming by S.E. Lynes
This is a fairly new book, published in October 2020, and the paperback version counts 326 pages. The audio version is about 10 hours of listening pleasure, and the narrator has a pleasant voice.
S.E. Lynes is a fairly unknown author to me. Her bio says:
Formerly a BBC producer, after gaining an MA in Creative Writing, she became a Creative Writing Tutor at Richmond Adult Community College and now combines writing, mentoring and lecturing. She has also published three children’s books in Italy.
I want to read more of her books, as she writes in a genre I really enjoy — thrillers. This book, The housewarming, is a psychological thriller filled with suspense.
A chilling plot
The mother, Ava, leaves her daughter, Abi, in a pushchair with the buckle fastened. She was upstairs, and because Abi was quiet, she stayed away a bit longer than she normally would have. When she came downstairs, the buggy was empty; the front door open.
Ava ran out of the house in panic, looking for her little girl, but couldn’t find her. The police came, and neighbors also helped to search, but no one could find the missing child. They found her coat, and all assumed she had drowned in the nearby river, but they never found her body.
A year later, Johnnie and Jen Lovegood — neighbors of Ava and her husband Matt — hosted a housewarming party to show off the renovations in their house. Ava didn’t want to go, but her husband, Matt, convinced her it would be good for her. It was during the party that Ava discovered something she didn’t know about the day her young daughter vanished.
She started questioning things again. Talked to her husband. Talked to her other neighbors, Neil and Bella, who were also Abi’s godparents. She uncovered lies, and the deeper she dug, the closer she came to learn the true story.
As the events unfold, you, as a reader, suspect what had really happened, and who was involved, but then another unexpected twist follows.
A remarkable book
The thing that stuck with me throughout the book was how real the characters were.
It started with Ava’s reaction when she discovered Abi was gone. The way she ran outside to look for her, knocking on their friends’ door in panic, and feeling utter despair. While searching, and for months after Abi had disappeared, she constantly chastised herself for staying upstairs just a bit longer, for scrolling through social media, for being happy for a moment for herself, because Abi was quiet.
Not only Ava’s character but also that of Matt and Neil, and the way they reacted to Abi’s disappearance, come across as the way people might react in real life. Their fear for saying that one thing, because of the suspicion that might turn their way, and then when the truth comes out, the way their world implodes on them. All very believable scenarios.
Then there are the Lovegoods — Johnnie is all about showing off, and Jen about indulging him, and caring for their children. Ava and Jen became friends, Jen offering Ava a shoulder to cry on. The Lovegoods have a special needs child, Jasmine, who repeats words over and over. It was when at the party she repeated the word ‘pockets’ upon seeing Neil, that something clicked in Ava’s mind, and she started asking questions again, and once more ran through the sequence of events of that fateful day Abi disappeared.
Some people might find that the first part of the book is boring, but it wasn’t the case for me. It firmly sets the pace for the book, and allows you to feel Ava’s pain, her utmost despair, her depression. But also Matt’s worry about his wife’s mental health. There is nothing boring about the story at all.
If you like psychological thrillers, and want to read a book that will keep your attention from the moment you read the first words, I recommend The Housewarming by S.E. Lynes.