As offbeat thrillers go, This Is The Water certainly plunges us in at the deep end. It’s a fast-paced, intriguing murder mystery based around a New England girls’ swim club and with as many textual quirks as a James Joyce novel.
Narrated principally by one of the notoriously pushy ‘swim-moms’ in a deliberately self-conscious second person ‘you’ tense, Murphy’s high-tension tale of murder, adultery, parenthood and romance unfolds with startling intimacy.
At a popular New England pool, members of the swim team and their dedicated parents are preparing for a home meet.
The most that Annie, a mother of two girls, has to worry about is whether or not she fed her daughters enough carbs, why her husband Thomas hasn’t kissed her for ages and why she can’t get over the loss of her brother who shot himself a few years ago.
But Annie’s world is about to change. Looking down at the swimmers and without anyone noticing him, a dark-haired man watches a girl. And when a team member is murdered at a nearby highway rest stop – the same rest stop where a parent made a gruesome discovery years ago – the grown-ups suddenly find themselves adrift.
With a serial killer now too close for comfort, Annie and her fellow swim parents must make choices about where their loyalties lie. And as a series of startling events unfold, Annie finds out what it means to follow your intuition even if love, as well as lives, could be lost.
Murphy’s creative style of writing immerses the reader in the minds of her characters, giving them a vivid self-identity and an almost unnerving psychological platform on which to reveal their innermost secrets, desires and memories.
Phrase repetition and the unusual tense may not have a universal appeal but what they do undeniably is drive the plot, create palpable tension and help to reinforce the novel’s powerful sense of emotional intensity.
There are plenty of twists and turns to propel the action and the portrait of a quiet, self-absorbed New England community thrown off kilter by revelations and a killer in their midst is cleverly drawn.
Expect the unexpected…
(Headline Review, paperback, £7.99)