tense | manipulative | gripping
what it says on the cover …
Two people can keep a secret . . . if one of them is dead.
Sisters Jo and Caroline are used to hiding things from each other. They’ve never been close – taking it in turns to feel on the outside of their family unit, playing an endless game of favourites.
Jo envies Caroline’s life – things have always come so easy to her. Then a family inheritance falls entirely to Jo, and suddenly now Caroline wants what Jo has. Needs it, even.
But just how far will she go to get it?
PUBLISHED: 1st April 2021
SHELF: Thriller | Suspense
AUTHOR: Nikki Smith
PUBLISHER: Orion Fiction / Orion Publishing
FORMATS: Hardback | Paperback | Kindle | AudioBook
Thank you to Nikki Smith @Mrssmithmunday for sending me a signed, paperback copy #LookWhatYouMadeMeDo
my review …
Talk about opening with a bang! The prologue for Look What You Made Me Do is tense and unsettling and rich with promise for a gripping thriller. I’d originally planned to make a start on the book as a treat to myself, and then go and get some yawn-chores done. Well, the prologue put paid to my plans for domestic goddess-ness … I was hooked.
The chapters are narrated alternately by Jo and Caroline, arranged over a four week period that leads up to the terrifying moment dominating the prologue. Their voices are as distinctive as their lives, their opinions, and their recollections making for a story that twists and slides in and out of focus. Interspersed between the two women’s chapters is an anonymous voice whose identity isn’t revealed until much later in the book. It was clear the author had a role for this individual within the central plot, and I found myself puzzling over who it could be … there were little snippets of information that occasionally pointed at one or other of the main characters, and then a later statement would blow my arm-chair detective theories apart.
Look What You Made Me Do is pitched as a psychological thriller, but it felt more like a family drama in terms of its pace, plot, and the author’s knack for drawing the reader inside the story. Being a family-centric plot, I enjoyed the strong sense of being invited behind closed doors, to experience the present day events alongside each character, getting to know their husbands, and – in Jo’s case – her daughters, Grace and Livvie. Whilst there is a strong element of soap-like drama to their lives, the character dynamics were authentic and engaging, and I was struck by the chasm-wide difference between Jo and Caroline’s inner-most thoughts and memories about their shared childhood.
Whilst the sisters may be the lead characters, their mother is a dominant and divisive presence. She truly is a piece of work who, along with her late husband, has undoubtedly been instrumental in the sibling rivalry at the heart of this book … which incidentally has been exceptionally well written. Likewise, Jo and Caroline’s husbands (Paul and Rob, respectively) play central roles; in Paul’s case he’s an insipid and untrustworthy millstone around Jo’s neck, whilst Rob is something far more dangerous … a deeply repugnant character who gives rise to the book’s most upsetting sub-plot of domestic abuse.
The author has created an outwardly successful and well-established family, and then burdened them with a toxic melting pot of secrets, lies, misunderstandings, sibling rivalry, envy, domestic violence, and adultery. All in all, that’s quite a lot to deal with, and whilst the author addresses each an every element with insightful style, these day-to-day dramas didn’t leave much as room for the psychological thriller elements as I’d been expecting. That is, until the latter chapters of the book where the suspense and tension do start to ratchet up somewhat.
It’s these latter chapters where the previously anonymous voice is revealed, and the understanding of their role in the broader story resolves itself. It’s also during these pages where the moments leading up to the events of the prologue also start to fall into place. And it’s at this point where we learned more about Caroline’s teenage son Adam, and his all-important postcards from Bali. Whilst Jo appeared to be positioned as the higher profile of the two lead characters, it was actually Caroline’s story that carried the most depth and tension for me, so I was really pleased to find the epilogue was all hers … a well deserved moment of optimism and triumph for a woman who’s suffered terribly at the hands of a cruel and brutal man. Perhaps Caroline was the author’s intended star character, and that’s why the book’s title – Look What You Made Me Do – forms part of an early scene between Caroline and Rob.
However, it’s also during these latter chapters that I’d hope for some of the more mercurial parts of the storyline to be explained, or at least addressed. Whilst most loose ends had been neatly and logically tied up, I was left with a few lingering quibbles. For example, why would Jo’s father, who has favoured her since childhood, bequeath his business to her knowing it would likely put her on a collision course with Rob, when he had evidence of exactly how dangerous Rob is? And why did he never report Rob to the police, instead allowing Caroline to live under the same roof as him for years? I’d also have been rather keen to have a little explainer about the logistics of a grown man letting himself in and out of Jo’s house, during the night when all the family are at home.
Outstanding questions aside, Look What You Made Me Do is an enjoyably gripping distillation of family drama and suspense. Its diverse plot-lines showcase the author’s talent for balancing a deeply moving familial examination with a sinuous and gripping tension. Her strong, well-written characters carry the story forward at a good pace, whilst the intimate content of the sisters’ alternating chapter structure peels the layers away bit by bit, inviting the reader to take a front-row seat in a drama that’s so good it demands you devote every ounce of your attention to it.
Nikki Smith studied English Literature at Birmingham University, before pursuing a career in finance. Following a ‘now or never’ moment, she applied for a Curtis Brown Creative course where she started writing her debut novel, All In Her Head, which was published in April 2020.
Nikki lives near Guildford with her family and a cat who thinks she’s a dog.