This Scottish author won a Silver Dagger Award by the Crime Writers' Association for this wonderfully dark psychological thriller.
Jean is an elderly house-sitter, just asked to leave her job. But not before she finishes her last assignment of taking care of Walden manor, a secluded country home.
Michael is a petty thief who steals church artifacts to get enough cash to buy tinned soup.
Steph is the abused pregnant girlfriend of a brute, who one day gives in to her impulse and runs away from her boyfriend. She runs into Michael and asks him to help her. A reluctant Michael lets her stay at his dingy apartment.
(I actually don't want to tell you this meeting, but this situation is so amazing that I cannot NOT tell you!)
Jean, meanwhile is so upset by her bleak future, when she will no longer have a job, that she starts to believe Walden manor is her house and slowly takes possession of the house and all the things in it. She even goes so far as to believe that she has had a son in the past whom she has given up for adoption. She places an advertisement in the papers looking for this non-existent son.
Michael chances upon the ad, and comes to meet her. He realizes that she cannot be his mother, yet when he sees the opportunity to live off on this old-woman's fortune, he pretends and makes about as if he is the son. This is a clinching moment in the novel. The silent acknowledgement by both of their taken-for-granted future together as mother and son unravels their doom. Needless to say, Steph is soon accepted as the 'son's wife' and therefore 'loved daughter-in-law'. Steph starts working as a baby-sitter in a nearby house.
Yet how long before they can continue this utopian existence, this lie they are living in and how long before reality asserts itself?
The owners are soon going to return, and the priest of the church from where Michael had once stolen a statue is in the village.
These two threats set rolling the wheel of doom, that none of them can stop. The end is explosive. Silently explosive.
The language is beautiful, her use of similes is delightful. The whole time you are reading this book, you want to disbelieve every word in it, yet you are drawn further and further into the book; you want to spit at the characters in disgust because of their fraudulent ways, yet you are drawn to cry for them in pity.