Most thrillers are heavy on action and light on character. It’s when an author can combine the two and throws in a satisfyingly complex plot that something special happens on the page. CUCKOO by Julia Crouch does all that.
A lot of horror stories take an ordinary anxiety – spiders, slugs, getting lost – and then magnify that fear. Here the concern is about the best friend, the absent controlling, manipulative best friend, who is absent no more.
Rose, the central character, is living the dream. Home is a beautiful old house in the English countryside where the village school is still open and at least one mainstream author is on the PTA. Family are two gorgeous daughters: a smart maternal five year old (and girls can be very maternal at that age) and a baby happily reaching all her milestones at the right time. Husband is not only an artist but one who manages to sell his work and keep his integrity. So far so House and Gardens but by the end of page one it is clear that the foundations of this life are about to rattle loose. As the story progresses we learn that the foundations weren’t all that strong in the first place.
Of course, I’m not going to give away the plot, but I will say it addresses a woman’s primal fears about herself and those she loves. Did I believe it? Yes, because I believed in the characters – especially the women and the children. Or more accurately, I pretty soon stopped wondering if this or that twist was feasible. It was much more a case of Oh no, look out! And occasionally: Don’t!
This is a page turner that you don’t have to be ashamed of reading – the quality of the writing is high. I read quite a few thrillers while I was convalescing earlier in the year. After promising starts, I mostly stopped caring about the MDF characters by chapter three and all tension was gone by the fifth gory description. CUCKOO is genuinely thrilling. Not every aspect of the story is neatly resolved at the end - you just know things are going to go on happening to Rose and her family after the last page just as they did before the first chapter opened and that makes it all the more chilling.