by D.D. Johnston
Claire Wilson knows what she saw: on the eighth floor of a derelict tower block, a woman was bottle-feeding a baby. But why would anyone take a baby into a boarded-up tower block? In an area of Manchester plagued by unexplained tragedies, the only allies Claire can find are a pagan witch, a wild-child party girl, and a husband with too many secrets.
She lay awake, breathing with the rhythm of Dan’s snores. They slept with a window open, naked, covered only by a sheet, but the night was still uncomfortably hot. At the top of the mobile phone mast there was a red light to warn off low-flying airplanes; for an hour, she watched its blink redden her bedroom wall. Then, at what time exactly she couldn’t say, just as she was dozing off, there came a crack from the back garden. It sounded like a piece of wood snapping. She sat up and shook Dan by the shoulder. ‘Dan, wake up.’
She shook him harder. ‘Dan!’
He rolled over, wrapping himself in the sheet’s entirety.
Claire sat still, listening to the silence outside, and then, because her pulse was still thumping, she got up and put on her dressing robe. Edging down the stairs, she decided she’d feel safer with a weapon. She turned the living room light on, decisively, as if in doing so she would vanquish a vampire. No intruders. Nothing she could use as a weapon, either. She checked the downstairs toilet, where she briefly considered arming herself with the toilet brush.
Then, in the kitchen, she grabbed the peppermill from the counter. It felt good to hold something heavy. Keeping the light off so she could see the garden, she crept up to the sliding patio doors and clicked on the garden light.
When she saw the man, she screamed and dropped the peppermill. He was staring right at her – a man in a black beanie hat. Later, when she thought back on the moment, what most alarmed her was that he had not seemed the least bit startled. The man didn’t run or panic or even look guilty. He noted her presence, and then, disinterested, he continued what he was doing at languorous pace. He strolled to the fence that separated Claire’s garden from Lianne’s, vaulted it, and continued towards the derelict tower block.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
D.D. Johnston’s first novel, Peace, Love, & Petrol Bombs, was a Sunday Herald Book of the Year in 2011 and is published in Spanish as Paz, amor y cócteles molotov. His experimental second novel, The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub, was a 2013 book of the year in The Morning Star, where it was described as “determinedly extraordinary”. He lives in Cheltenham, UK, and works at the University of Gloucestershire, where he is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing and a University Teaching Fellow. In his spare time he runs the OnlineWritingTips.com website.
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3.5 of 5 stars
The Secret Baby Room by D.D. Johnston is a mystery that centers around Claire Wilson, who has moved to Manchester with her husband and becomes enmeshed in a series of issues with her neighbors. A mysterious graffiti artist is tagging a disconcerting image of a baby, a woman and baby are seen in an ostensibly abandoned building, and a campaign to halt demolition as well as get a telephone mast removed all seem designed to convince the Wilsons that their new neighborhood is not going to be as peaceful and healing an environment as they thought and the question becomes, will their marriage survive all the stresses its experiencing?
This tale is a character study as well as a psychological thriller that has several red herrings and odd twists set in a distinctly British environment. The use of certain phrases and descriptions of procedures are a bit disconcerting to one unfamiliar with the local vernacular and the multiple threads that are laid down in the first part of the novel are a bit ponderous and slow to engage the reader. It is important to persevere with this story to truly appreciate it, but be forewarned that this is a dark and sometimes pretty horrifying story that evokes strong emotions and has unexpected resolutions.
I had trouble establishing a connection with the characters at first, but I realized that many of them are very multi-layered, just as the story itself is. Claire is a driven and determined woman who has to get past the tragedy in her own life, and the realization that others are dealing with plenty of tragedies of their own serves as a sometimes very uncomfortable wake-up call. There are several crises that are a bit awkward for me, and I wish that there was a little more depth to some of the characters, but once the action picked up toward the middle of the story, it became quite compelling and I was anxious to discover how it was going to be resolved. This is a thought-provoking tale that starts slowly but builds into an attention-getting story that will appeal to those who like very quirky characters, lots of angst and dark atmosphere, and a characteristically British flair for understatement.
A copy of this title was provided to me for review
A copy of this title was provided to me for review