Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 stars)
Nick Braeburn is trying to step into a new life after his break-up with long-term girlfriend, Hannah, in New York. As an Englishman in New York City, he has melded into a proper American, feeling out of place with his English family. After the wealthy Peacock sisters take him up as a tenant, he is drawn to their priceless piece of Egyptian art in their study, as well as their neighbor Lydia. But when both Nick and Lydia come together under the influence of a crime, all their secrets begin to unravel.
In a piece that, like many thrillers, places us in the mind of the perpetrator, we also get a harrowing glance at Nick’s own self sabotage. He’s not a narrator you can trust; he gets confused by reflections and his own thoughts. On top of that, he’s selfish with questionable morals, but at the same time, his own bad decisions haunt him. In a way, it is reminiscent of Theo in The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, although not as devious and cunning.
One of the genius parts of Owen’s writing here is the uncertainty around Nick: is he a psychopath, a sociopath, a schizophrenic, or something else? Does he know what he is doing is wrong? How deep does his influence go? Some people might want more clear cut answers, but by leaving that to the reader’s imagination, we are able to paint Nick in whatever life we deem suitable. Or darkness. Whichever you prefer.
Honestly, having listened to a bunch of audio books over the past month, this would have done very well as an audio book. I found myself skimming passages that I didn’t think important, only for details to come back up again later. An audio book might have helped negate that, or possibly a break in the long detailed paragraphs that took us back through Nick’s life. But this is a small thing that doesn’t take away from the story.
I do think, as much as I enjoyed this story, the book won’t be for everyone. It involves problem solving on your own. The crime itself isn’t hard to uncover: two individuals steal something that lead to their own pasts unraveling. Instead, what you are really putting together, is the long and entwined story of Nick, the Peacock Sisters, Lydia, and the rest of their acquaintances. Are any of them actually good? Are they all suffering from delusions of grandeur? Or, even at the end, are we being lied right in the face?
If you enjoy a good thriller, check out The Weighing of the Heart, and make your own decisions about Nick’s actions. It’s worth it.
What’s it about?
Following a sudden break-up, Englishman in New York Nick Braeburn takes a room with the elderly Peacock sisters in their lavish Upper East Side apartment, and finds himself increasingly drawn to the priceless piece of Egyptian art on their study wall – and to Lydia, the beautiful Portuguese artist who lives across the roof garden.
But as Nick draws Lydia into a crime he hopes will bring them together, they both begin to unravel, and each find that the other is not quite who they seem.
Paul Tudor Owen’s intriguing debut novel brilliantly evokes the New York of Paul Auster and Joseph O’Neill.