Book review: I See You by Clare Mackintosh

3/5 stars

Audible version narrated by Rachel Atkins.

4 stars for the first half, 2 for the last.

I keep trying. With crime thrillers. I keep trying. Because I know that there is something really good out there, I just know it. Something where you have psychological, nail-biting, edge-of-seat-sitting suspense coupled with believable characters who don’t do incredibly stupid things like go to a likely serial killer’s house by themselves to “investigate” without telling anyone. Something where you have a coherent plot and a motive that makes sense (insofar as any murder motive can make sense). Something where no pets or children are brutalised and no people are needlessly and excessively tortured. In short, something that frightens me, entertains me, satisfies me and doesn’t make me vomit or want to eternally sunshine it out of my mind. It has to be out there, right?

For a good part of this book I thought this might be it. The holy grail of crime fiction. Sure, the basic plot is pretty much insane, but once you get past that (which I was happy to do in my quest for this sacred relic) it’s a pretty good, suspenseful, coherent story.

The premise is basically a dating service with a twist. Someone posts details of women’s commutes, down to exactly what trains they take, where they switch, what they’re wearing, where they stand on the platform, what carriage they get in, etc. Men then pay large sums of money in order to download these “dating profiles”, in order to stage a meet cute with one of the women, because regular online dating is so 2006. Turns out some of these men are downloading profiles for raping or murdering purposes. Like I said, pretty insane. But I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief, because I felt this story really had something going for it.

I really liked the characters of Zoe Walker (victim/stalkee) and Kelly Swift (police woman). I thought they both seemed fairly well-rounded with good heads on their shoulders. And very importantly: the characters actually communicated with each other about recent developments. Every time I thought it was turning into one of those classic things of  “character A has critical information to the survival of character B but doesn’t tell them because of… reasons”, I was happily proved wrong. These characters pleased me. Until Zoe pressed her emergency alarm button for the first time. That’s basically where it started to go downhill.

Mild spoilers:

I understand being extremely anxious under the circumstances. But, you’re exiting a presumably relatively crowded train station in the middle of the day, into a presumably well populated area – why not, maybe, I dunno, look over your shoulder at least, or maybe stop a passer-by before running like a maniac and pressing your panic button, thus initiating an emergency police response?

That seemed to start some sort of chain reaction of unbelievable thought processes and actions on Zoe’s part.

And when we got to the critical last phase of the novel (the classic “victim is trapped/held hostage by bad guy” phase), although it was action packed and in theory suspenseful, I was not afraid at all. I already knew before we entered into this phase who the bad guy (or one of the bad guys) was going to be, because in that way this was remarkably similar in plot and motivation to a book I read this summer, and I pretty much knew exactly what was going to happen from then on out. I mean, not down to every last detail, but enough that it wasn’t exciting. I was just waiting to see how accurately I had predicted the outcome. About 90%, I’d say. And I’m really not that clever when it comes to these kinds of things. I am almost always taken by surprise by story twists. Actually maybe it’s not so much about cleverness as it’s about just really immersing myself in the story and not looking at it analytically.

There was admittedly an epilogue with some stuff in it that I did not see coming, but it did not endear the story to me any more.

When I get disappointed like this, J keeps telling me that I should “write the book I want to read”. A good plan in theory. But I have to hand it to all these people out there writing only OK crime thrillers; writing a really good one is extremely hard to do. And for now at least, I just don’t have the story in me.


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