Reminiscent of The Girl on the Train, The Breakdown is a satisfying, gripping crime thriller that keeps readers guessing til the very last page – it was one of the best books that I read on my travels.
When a woman is murdered near the isolated house that Cass and her husband Matthew share, it sends Cass into a tailspin of guilt: not least because she realises she drove past the woman on her way home the previous night. At the time, she’d thought something might be wrong, but the weather conditions were too bad to stop – and the lane she passed her in was dark and dangerous. Fearful of a mugging attempt, Cass had kept on driving, planning to report the car when she got home – but she forgot. The next thing she hears, the woman is dead. Cass’ guilt intensifies when she realises that she knew the victim, Jane; she’d met her only recently and they had had dinner together. She’d thought it was the start of a close friendship.
Jane’s murder sparks a chain of events that Cass can’t keep ahead of. Too scared to admit that she took the same route as Jane home – treacherous in bad weather, she promised both her husband and her best friend, Rachel, that she wouldn’t – Cass works hard to cover up the lie. Prone to forgetfulness, her memory lapses get worse and worse – and phantom phone calls, threatening and repetitive, continue, until she’s forced to turn to medication to deal with what she thinks is going on: that she’s being stalked by the murderer, convinced he saw her that night and hellbent on silencing her before she tells.
Matthew, patient at first, begins to get frustrated with her – and Rachel also deals well with the forgotten lunches and appointments that Cass misses, but things start to come to a head when Cass receives a letter saying she might have early on-set dementia. It’s the same horrible fate her mother suffered in her mid-forties and what Cass has been terrified of. Aware that her marriage is becoming increasingly fractious and worried that her friendship with Rachel is at breaking point, Cass suddenly makes a shock discovery that throws everything – even Jane’s murder – into question.
As the tension increases, page by page, so does the reader’s – I read this book on a train and started in a relaxed position, then moved to being upright and alert as I raced through the story, unable to put it down. Truly a fine mastery of the unreliable protagonist genre and perhaps the best book I’ve read this year so far!