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The Keeper is a psychological thriller that tracks the circumstances of the drowning of Katie Straw, a support worker in a women’s refuge in a fictional market town in Northern England. Was it suicide or was it something more sinister?

 

The novel cuts back and forth between two timelines: “Then” details Katie’s intense relationship with her partner Jamie; and “Now” deals with the aftermath of Katie’s death. The two timelines have very different feels.

 

The “Then” timeline is quite conventional psychological thriller stuff. Jamie is controlling and gradually takes away Katie’s independence, killing her with kindness. There are hints of a temper which occasionally shows through in very brief outbursts but mostly sits simmering beneath the surface. Katie becomes afraid of triggering Jamie which, coupled with the stress of coping with a dying mother, affect her life choices. It is well done but rather generic.

 

The “Now” timeline is more experimental. Two male police officers enter the women’s refuge to investigate Katie’s state of mind prior to her death. Val, the refuge manager, is appalled to have her space invaded by men and fears for the damage it will do to the residents. Val is a comical figure: pompous, militant but easily manipulated into sacrificing her vociferously held principles. The police investigation often fades into the background to allow the spotlight to turn onto the story of each of the residents. They are portrayed as a diverse group, both in terms of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds; and in terms of the nature of the abuse that has caused them to seek refuge. All, though, are portrayed as strong and empowered – which I guess might be true of the victims who have walked away from their abusers – but also as fearful of being revisited by ghosts from the past. This timeline has multiple points of view – sometimes third person, sometimes first person – and can feel as though it is making a political commentary rather than unfolding a police investigation. This rather takes away the focus of the novel and can make the middle feels a bit meandering.

 

The ending is both a strength and a weakness. There is a twist (isn’t there always?) that is genuinely chilling and causes the reader to re-evaluate a number of past events. But it is also a little implausible and lessens the impact of some of the serious social commentary.  

 

The Keeper tries for something ambitious – to be a socially important psychological thriller. However, the two tracks don’t quite join up and it feels like a bit of a hybrid novel. It’s enjoyable enough, nevertheless, and does provoke thought about the wider context of domestic abuse and the support for its victims.

 

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