The Heights by Louise Candlish

excruciating | tense | raw | thought-provoking

what it’s all about …

He thinks he’s safe up there. But he’ll never be safe from you. 

The Heights is a tall, slender apartment building among the warehouses of Tower Bridge, its roof terrace so discreet you wouldn’t know it existed if you weren’t standing at the window of the flat directly opposite. But you are. And that’s when you see a man up there – a man you’d recognize anywhere. He’s older now and his appearance has subtly changed, but it’s definitely him. 

Which makes no sense at all since you know he has been dead for over two years.  You know this for a fact.

Because you’re the one who killed him.  It’s time to confess what we did up there.

PUBLISHED: 5th August 2021
SHELF: Fiction | Psychological Thriller
AUTHOR: Louise Candlish
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
FORMATS: Hardback | Kindle | AudioBook

my review

The Heights is presented in the form of a memoir written by Ellen Saint; mother of Lucas and Freya, wife of Justin, ex partner of Vic.  Her story is divisive and affecting, and whilst the impression of unedited frankness often casts her in an unfavourable light, this is an intelligent and thought-provoking thriller that will frequently test your own ‘if-I-were-in-her-shoes’ integrity.

I’m a huge fan of Louise Candlish’s talent for seamlessly weaving chilling suspense into prosaic and everyday encounters … how she focuses on social microcosms and the tenuous relationships established between strangers thrown together by circumstance and proximity. In The Heights, the connection is made when a new boy joins Ellen’s son Lucas’s class.  Kieran is a disadvantaged sixteen year old boy, bounced around the care and schooling systems pursued by a wake of whispered stories and suppositions.  As a particularly high performing student, Lucas is buddied-up with Kieran, and the boys quickly form a tight friendship. Whilst Ellen outwardly projects the stance of privileged, open-minded, middle-class motherhood, her inner turmoil escalates rapidly, exacerbated by the change this new friendship ignites in Lucas.

The climax of the story is presented to the reader of Ellen’s novel – Saint or Sinner – very early on, but knowing the outcome without knowing exactly what happened makes the anxiety and tension almost unbearable. Somehow, it adds a painful brutality with its impression of full-disclosure. The fact Ellen is viewing events through a rear-view mirror compounds the impotent rage and crippling bitterness exponentially; the cruelties of twenty-twenty hindsight making it impossible not to point fingers and apportion a degree of guilt to various characters. I was shocked at the ferocity of my reaction to Kieran as portrayed through Ellen’s words. But this is a Louise Candlish novel, so I braced myself (gleefully) for the astounding plot twists that I knew she had in store for me.

Whilst my opinions of Ellen were pretty much cemented by her narrative in the book’s first part, I found myself viewing her actions more objectively during her latter chapters.  I have Vic’s brief intermission to thank for this; in some ways he’s a voice of reason who brings a degree of balance to a hitherto emotively inflamed perspective.  But he’s by no means perfect, and whilst parts of his story restore Lucas’s humanity and fallibility, others serve to underscore some of Ellen’s seething indignation.  It didn’t take long at all for me to fall into stride with Ellen’s story – her fear and fury were profoundly compelling, and although her actions won’t inspire the understanding of everyone, one thing’s for sure … no reader will be able to sit on the fence here.

Ellen’s account reels you into the heart of the story, forcing you to adopt a stance based on the facts being presented to you at the time.  Will you be the judge and jury, or will you become a collaborator, complicit in a breathtakingly messy story? You will also be compelled to consider the moral intricacies raised by the aftermath: the severity of custodial sentences; the apportionable blame loaded onto parents and guardians; the trade-off between maternal instinct and social sensitivities; the vilifying impact of public campaigning. This isn’t so much a layered tale as a tightly-woven story web, with so many shades and nuances and secrets to be revealed by the characters; every time exquisitely toying with your perception and interpretation. It’s absolutely perfect reading club material.

It’s the weighty combination of fictional thriller and moral puzzle that makes The Heights so impossibly addictive.  Obsession and grief jostle for headspace with a terrifyingly plausible context, whilst the compulsive tension and tight plot twists are both disorientating and intoxicating. The vice-like grip and raw emotions of this story command your attention, resolutely refusing to let up until it’s delivered its perfect final punch.

Thank you to Amy Fulwood at Simon & Schuster for sending me an advance proof paperback copy of The Heights in return for an honest review.

If this book sounds like one you’d love to read too, here’s a selection of purchase links:
To buy direct from the author/publisher, click ☞ here
To support independent local bookshops, click ☞ here
To feed your Waterstones ‘plus’ loyalty card, click ☞ here
And of course, here is the ubiquitous Amazon link

author bio

Sunday Times bestselling author ​Louise Candlish was born in Northumberland and grew up in the Midlands town of Northampton. She studied English at University College London and has lived in the capital ever since. She is the author of 14 novels, winner of the British Book Awards 2019 Crime & Thriller Book of the Year, and shortlisted for several other awards.

Louise lives in Herne Hill in South London with her husband, teenage daughter and fox-red Labrador, Bertie. Besides books, the things she likes best are: coffee; TV; salted caramel; tennis; lasagne; old heavy metal; ‘The Archers’ (but not the lockdown monologues); white wine; Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (or, failing that, a Starbar). Her favourite book is Madame Bovary

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11 thoughts on “The Heights by Louise Candlish

  1. I love grappling with moral dilemmas when reading, it makes the reading experience more cerebral. You totally sold me on this one, I’m adding it!


  2. Ooh, I’m going through a psychological thriller obsession at the moment and this book sounds amazing! Lovely review, you’ve really brought out how difficult it must be to judge the characters. Thank you for sharing! 📚❤️ X x x

    Liked by 1 person

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