So what if Lexi isn’t telling the truth about who she is? Escaping to the remote snows of Norway was her lifeline. And all she wanted was to be a part of their lives. But soon, isolated in that cold, creaking house in the middle of ancient, whispering woods, Lexi’s fairy tale starts to turn into a nightmare. With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi’s fears are deepening. Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care. But protect them from what?
What a wonderful hybrid of fiction and crime genres The Nesting is, melding together the very best elements of Scandinavian crime fiction, with a convincing rendition of recognisable domestic noir and peppered with a sinister supernatural air, drawing on folkloric tales. With these distinct layers of difference confidently and tightly woven together, this is a debut thriller from S.J. Cooke that is well worth seeking out…
Lexi is a damaged young woman, scarred mentally and physically from an incredibly rough childhood, and is at the point of absolute despair when karma steps in and transports her, through some artifice, to a new life in Norway caring for two young motherless girls. Yes, there is a degree of suspension of disbelief, as we see her assume a false identity but after an awkward start and various missteps, she takes on her new employment with both maturity and enjoyment, and quickly develops a lovely relationship with the two girls in her charge, working through their trauma and her own. Cooke gets across to the reader very well this growing confidence in Lexi, but as the story takes a darker turn, we gain even more empathy with Lexi as she tries to navigate a maelstrom of jealousy, suspicion and a malignant supernatural influence at the heart of this tale. As an even greater darkness encroaches on her, Lexi is seen to keep her wits about her, and the protective nature that so comes to the fore in the plot exposes Lexi’s own intensely personal reason for this heightened desire to keep safe these little girls. In the other characters, Cooke has a lovely touch in keeping them all slightly shadowy and not completely formed and builds up the deeper picture of them slowly and surely throughout the book. Consequently, we feel a degree of mistrust about them for a considerable part of the story which adds to the suffocating atmosphere of the story, and ramps up the mystery as we follow Lexi’s endeavours to unravel the jealousies and tensions that lie between them, and results in an extremely dark and compelling plot, reminiscent of the Scandinavian crime fiction genre in which this book casts itself.
Aside from the central murder mystery, Cooke proves adept at weaving in other themes and points of interest within the story, and none more so with the retelling of a couple of truly creepy Norse folk tales, the core of which feed into the main narrative. Far from being an unwelcome intrusion, I was fascinated by these and have done a note to self to seek out some more to scare the bejesus out of myself with. I thought this different strand to the plot really added to the strength of the book, stressing the idea that those things that we think only exist in fanciful tales and in our darkest nightmares, are not as fanciful as we may at first believe. I know I often labour the point in my reviews that I like to emerge from a book haven’t learnt something, or discovered a new way of looking at the world, and this book also fits this requirement. There are some interesting observations on the harmless harnessing of the natural world, as opposed to the more destructive methods which other less scrupulous individuals employ, and this worked in synchronicity with the building of a home which occupies the core of the book. It also neatly addressed how an ignorance of the natural world can be not only irresponsible, but can have severe ramifications indeed, both physical and mental.
I must confess that I found this book surpassed my expectations, as I naively thought that a run of the mill domestic noir book awaited me, but The Nesting went beyond this, and in some style. With it’s creepy blend of crime and the supernatural, the perfectly realised Norwegian setting, and the skilful melding of the power of the natural world and ancient folklore, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Recommended.
(With thanks to HarperCollins for the ARC)
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