Actor Gwydion Morgan’s dramatic appearance at Jessica Mayhew’s psychotherapy practice coincides with a turbulent time in her own life – her husband has just revealed that he’s spent the night with a much younger woman. Gwydion, son of the famous Evan Morgan, is good looking and talented but mentally fragile, tormented by an intriguing phobia. Jessica is determined to trace the cause of his distress. So when his mother phones to say he is suicidal, Jessica decides to make a house call. The Morgans live in a grand cliff-top mansion overlooking a rocky bay with its own private jetty. It’s a remote and somewhat sinister place. On her visit, Jessica finds out that an au pair who looked after Gwydion as a child drowned in the bay in mysterious circumstances. Could it be that Gwydion witnessed her death? In her quest to help her client, Jessica finds herself becoming embroiled in the Morgans’ poisonous family dynamic. At the same time, she has to deal with the demands of her own domestic life: her struggle to keep her marriage intact, as well as her older daughter’s increasingly defiant behaviour. And then, of course, there is the growing attraction she feels towards her new client . . .
This assured debut from Charlotte Williams is perfect for fans of the psychological thriller very much on a par with Erin Kelly, Sophie Hannah et al. Focusing on the professional and personal life of psychologist Jessica Mayhew, balancing the demands of a difficult family including a wilful teenage daughter and a snake-in-the-grass husband, Jessica’s life is further complicated by the arrival of a troubled new patient, Gwydion Morgan. Morgan places many demands on Mayhew emotionally and professionally, as events from his childhood reveal a dark tale of jealousy and murder.
Williams skilfully interweaves these two disparate areas of Jessica’s life into a fluid and engaging narrative, and although for me personally, the guilty party was quite evident in the murder plot, I was carried along quite nicely by the dilemmas facing Jessica. There was a good intergration within the book of psychological detail and the professional treatment of psychological disorders which made for an interesting curve in the central plot as Jessica’s professional life plays such a central role. Her family life, focusing on the demands of a difficult teenage daughter and the rebuilding of trust with her husband after his sexual indiscretion, also had an extremely authentic feel leading the reader to feel great empathy with Jessica’s woes. Her relationship with Gwydion Morgan also makes for an interesting dynamic, professionally and personally and likewise her interaction with other members of the Morgan clan, a family steeped in jealousy and untruths. One aspect of the book I felt was particularly good was William’s depiction of place and atmosphere especially in relation to the central setting of the rugged west coast of Wales. She captured perfectly the wild beauty of the area, and there was also a nice little sojourn in Sweden as Jessica attempts to untangle the complicated threads of Morgan’s troubled family history. All in all a good thriller and certainly an author I would read again.
Charlotte Williams studied philosophy at university, and afterwards worked as a journalist, writing for magazines and making documentaries for the BBC. She later trained as a psychotherapist. She is married with two sons, lives in Cardiff, and is currently working on her second novel featuring Jessica Mayhew. Read a Q&A with Charlotte Williams here: http://www.panmacmillan.com/book/charlottewilliams/thehouseonthecliff
Charlotte Williams, author of The House on the Cliff, will be appearing at The Laugharne Weekend Festival in West Wales on the weekend of 5th-7th April 2013.
‘The House On The Cliff’ is published 28 February 2013 -Pan Macmillan
(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)