Everyone envies the Randalls. As Robert embarks on a luxurious retirement, his beautiful wife Caroline thrives as an accomplished hostess, and their handsome twins launch their own high-flying careers. It is almost too good to be true.
No one envies Stuart. Used to fending for himself after a childhood of foster homes, he is now making his way as best he can, vowing to lose a bit more weight and become a bit more successful.
But a chance encounter sets in motion a series of events which will shatter everything. Some will think they’ve lost, and some will think they’re winning, but none of them will be prepared for what is to come in the final catastrophe of jealousy, betrayal and agonizing justice. They should never have invited Stuart in – and Stuart should never have trusted them…
From my initial experience of reading The Wishing Game some years ago, still to my mind one of the best psychological thrillers ever, I have been a regular reader of Patrick Redmond. The Replacement is his latest, and once again demonstrates his prowess in the understanding of human psychology, and the pitch perfect transference of this talent into crime fiction.
Meet the Randalls, a wholly dislikeable and affluent family, with the superior and boorish attitudes that such status inevitably yields in their day to day lives. Robert Randall, the dominant patriarch, a retired lawyer, and his hostess with the mostess wife, the attractive Caroline. The twin sons, James and Thomas with their successful careers, after a childhood empty of love and praise for Thomas, and with all the family expectations and opportunities invested in James. Theirs is a family with a bedrock of sexual duplicity, societal position and petty jealousies and rivalries. It’s absolutely fascinating. And then the masterstroke as a large cuckoo in the nest, in the shape of the hapless Stuart- an overweight, low achieving man scarred by his upbringing in the care system- arrives to send this family into free-fall, and then, as they say, it all kicks off. Big style.
The building and development of each player in this almost Borgia-esque nightmare is beautifully rendered with a narrative control that Redmond is well known for. Each character is fully developed with a 360 degree viewpoint that plumbs the depths of their interior lives and motivations. This is particularly true of Thomas, James and Stuart, who are so wholly different, but you know each of them so intensely with the width and breadth of the characterisation. Indeed, every single character is so clearly defined, regardless of their influence in the plot, that the reader is totally engaged in the machinations of their lives, arousing our sympathy or vitriolic bile in equal measure. There’s a wonderful quote regarding Ma and Pa Randall saying, “He was an unpleasant man. She was an unpleasant woman. But even the most objectionable of people could still have feelings”, but as the plot unfolds the finer qualities of these feelings such as they are, are roundly undermined by the revealing of the truly appalling actions of both. The way that they have manipulated their sons, and the degradation and falseness of their marriage, puts the whole family set-up into sharp focus, leading us to question how James and Thomas have survived as long as they have with such awful parents, and how Stuart will fit into this equation. I loved the permutations of the relationships in the book, between the sons themselves, their respective girlfriends, whether pleasant or grasping, and how all their worlds collide, as each revelation of the misdemeanours of the past is unveiled. The close-quartered study of the dynamics of this family is utterly realistic, where jealousy underscored with shifting loyalties is at the fore. The book is incredibly dialogue driven, but is precise and most important very naturalistic and flowing. This intense use of dialogue immerses you even more in the character’s fractured relationships and personal scheming, that in some cases puts Machiavelli himself to shame…
This is a twisted tale of murder, suicide, and sexual and monetary jealousy that slowly envelops you in its grasp and for me certainly, became utterly compulsive reading. The characters are so nice and nasty in equal measure that I bet you have your own candidate as the eventual murder victim- I certainly did- and will fully enjoy this slow potboiler from start to finish. Loved it…
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(With thanks to Little Brown for the ARC)