Something in the Water review: Catherine Steadman’s cracking thriller

Crime fiction
Something in the Water
​Catherine Steadman
​Simon & Schuster, $32.99

Erin Locke is digging a grave. She's pretty fit, though, shifting 1.5 tons of soil in two hours to create a hole three-feet deep (according to Erin's careful calculations that's the absolute minimum to ensure the body won't be discovered). It's also two-feet wide and six-feet long to accommodate the still warm corpse under the crumpled tarp lying next to her. Who it is and why this has to be done, Erin will explain. But in order to do that she tells us, "I need to go back. Back to that anniversary morning three months ago." And so she does.

Actor Catherine Steadman has written a cracker of a psychological thriller written from the point of view of a narrator we probably shouldn’t trust.

Actor Catherine Steadman has written a cracker of a psychological thriller written from the point of view of a narrator we probably shouldn't trust. This is domestic noir territory but Erin is no victim. While her address to the reader is conversational and disarming, she can also be calculating and devious. As can her handsome, investment banker, husband-to-be, Mark. Patricia Highsmith would have embraced them both.

Their first encounter is telling. Having found out she is a documentary filmmaker, Mark invites her over to his place to watch a four-hour documentary on Nicolae Ceausescu, the former dictator of Romania. Clearly they know how to push each other's buttons and the sex is great Erin tells us, eschewing (thank goodness) the details.

So this would appear to be a marriage made in heaven, until Mark loses his job and they have to scale back their luxurious honeymoon on Bora Bora to two weeks instead of three. The setting is idyllic until a huge storm blasts the island, but Erin is so infatuated with Mark she doesn't care – she's even prepared to give scuba-diving another go. And so we arrive at the fateful moment when the newly-weds discover the "something in the water" that will change their lives forever.

Having reached the irrevocable conclusion at the graveside, its salutary to flip back to the start to appreciate just how skilfully Steadman has set this up. The first 100 pages tell us all we need to know about Erin to understand how she will deal with what befalls her. And we're always on her side, but should we be? This is deliciously murky moral territory.

As it is, Erin reveals herself as able to switch from worrying about Mark to focusing on her upcoming documentary. This one will follow the fortunes of three very different prisoners on the day of their release. Among them is Eddie Bishop "one of the last remaining East End gangsters" with whom Erin forms an unlikely but strategic bond. Eddie appears to know much more about Erin than he should, but as she wistfully observes, "I suppose you can never really know a person, can you?"

This is a clever, cool thriller, with Gone Girl smarts.

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