Oscar winning film director Andrew Stanton suggests that every good story starts with a promise. We are all familiar with such well known story openings as “Once Upon a Time...” (many, many fairy tales start this way), “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” (Star Wars)’  “Marley was dead to begin with...” (‘A Christmas Carol’ ~ Charles Dickens). These are sentences and phrases which capture the interest of the reader before they even know what they story will be about or where it is going – for instance, who is Marley? How did he die? There are questions before the first paragraph is properly begun.

The opening should hook the audience, suck them in, and leave them wanting to know more; Dorothy Koomson has this down to a fine art. From the opening passage, written as a newspaper article, I was hooked on ‘The Friend’.

“A popular mother of two is in a coma after being found on the premises of a local Brighton primary school after a viscous attack the police are investigating as attempted murder”,

Koomson has written many books, all different and all excellent. They are easy to read, and usually have short, punchy chapters making them the perfect holiday book. Over the years, Koomson’s style has changed. Her books have always been about family, friendship, and love; this has not changed, but in the past few years, since the release of ‘The Ice Cream Girls’ in 2013, Koomson has introduced a darker and more thrillingly chilling element to her novels; the books themselves have become thicker and edgier but they have maintained the ‘easy to read’ nature which makes them stand out in a crowd. ‘The Friend‘ is no exception.

Ce-ce has moved to Brighton with her family following her husband’s promotion. From the moment she moves into their new house, she knows something is out of kilter; in London she worked with the police force and is very adept at reading people, picking up on the subtlest of signs, and knowing when something or someone is not quite as they should be. With her children enrolled in the local private primary school she  soon discovers that life in suburbia is not quite as friendly as it may seem – the very popular mother of another pupil at the school has been badly assaulted and left in a coma. As Ce-ce adapts to her new life as a stay at home mother she becomes friends with Maxie, Anaya and Hazel, three mothers with children in the same class as her own ~ who the police believe could be involved in the attempted murder.  Determined to get to the bottom of what has happened, Ce-Ce embarks on a voyage of discovery, delving into the pasts of those around her and surreptitiously uncovering dark secrets and hidden pasts.

The Friend’ is addictive – mistakenly I thought that the short chapters would mean that I could read for five minutes between jobs. Not a chance!! This book could not be put down and was devoured in a few blissful hours. Koomson weaves a wonderful web of intrigue pulling her readers in; she builds tension gradually, feeding hints subtly, and adds surprising twists and turns to keep the reader guessing right up to the end. “The Friend” is not a “Whodunit” in the ilk of Agatha Christie or Ruth Rendell; it has friendship, trust and forgiveness at its heart. It is much more about friendship and support than it is about the crime; the crime is simply the catalyst leading  a group of families and friends to finally acknowledge  just how they became who they are.

 Just how well do you know the people around you? Everybody has a story to tell, everyone has a past, something that they don’t want the world to know… how dark do secrets get?

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