Catriona McPherson is a rare breed of author: one who refuses to write the same book twice, but who nevertheless manages to always satisfy, providing readers with just what they are looking for, even when they themselves are not quite sure what that is. Book after book, Catriona McPherson’s complex plots tread new undisturbed ground while imbuing each with some ephemeral essence that is uniquely her own. This is especially true of her non-series modern-day suspense releases. Today sees the launch of Strangers at the Gate, McPherson’s eighth stand-alone tale of suspense.
Strangers at the Gate begins with Finn and Paddy deciding to upend their newly wedded bliss with an aim towards betterment. Paddy has been offered a partnership in a law firm that requires a relocation, but that comes with the ability to rent a carriage house near Simmerton. For her part, Finn manages to get a full-time appointment as a deacon for the area’s church. And with that, their decision to move is complete.
Wanting to fit in, Finn and Paddy agree to dinner with Paddy’s new boss, Lovett Dudgeon, and his wife, Tuft, who just happens to volunteer at Finn’s new church. The meal goes well, but when Finn realizes on their walk home that she left her purse behind, it sets into motion a string of troubles for the couple. Returning to the Dudgeon home, they stumble upon a tragic tableau. How Finn and Paddy handle this discovery – and more importantly why they do so in this manner – is just the first of several twisted revelations Catriona McPherson has planned for the reader.
What follows is a suspense tale that could only come from the mind of Catriona McPherson. Think of it as a blending of multiple styles: the period authenticity of Victoria Holt, several finely-honed settings à la Mary Stewart, and the idiosyncratic familial bloodlines of Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, and Susan Hill wrapped in an eminently-readable and highly-engaging style. There is practically nothing predictable about this novel, and yet the manipulation that Catriona McPherson employs is so subtle that it’s only once the final pages are turned that the true artistry is exposed.
Each of the characters who populate this plot are beguiling, but it is Finn that I suspect most readers will find themselves attached to. She is an interesting mix of modern and traditional, leaving readers always wondering how she is going to react as each new development unfolds. The fellow oddball residents of Simmerton (and beyond) are each distinctly drawn, flesh-and-blood characters who do more than simply provide plot avenues for exploration; they feel as though they live lives outside the pages of Strangers at the Gate.
Whether you are currently a Catriona McPherson fan or one of her about-to-be fanatics, Strangers at the Gate is a book that should be on your reading list. It is great to be able to start with her most recent stand-alone, but it won’t be long before you have devoured them all.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.