Now I’m never normally this organised, but seeing as how I was going to Newcastle Noir, and seeing as how I had an advance copy of Paul Burston’s The Closer I Get, and Mr B was going to be in attendance and all that, I thought it only polite that I read the book in advance of the panel. Mission accomplished. I’m good like that. But before I share my thoughts, here’s what the book is all about:
About The Book
Tom is a successful author, but he’s struggling to finish his novel. His main distraction is an online admirer, Evie, who simply won’t leave him alone.Available From: Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones (preorder) | Playstore | iBooks
Evie is smart, well read and unstable; she lives with her father and her social-media friendships are not only her escape, but everything she has.
When she’s hit with a restraining order, her world is turned upside down, and Tom is free to live his life again, to concentrate on writing.
But things aren’t really adding up. For Tom is distracted but also addicted to his online relationships, and when they take a darker, more menacing turn, he feels powerless to change things. Because maybe he needs Evie more than he’s letting on.
A compulsive, disturbingly relevant, twisty and powerful psychological thriller, The Closer I Get is also a searing commentary on the fragility and insincerity of online relationships, and the danger that can lurk just one ‘like’ away…
If any of you are daft enough to follow me on Twitter (lord help you), you’ll note that I can often be found signing off my tweets, especially to Orenda authors, #notastalker. It’s true. I’m not. I **may** turn up to quite a few Orenda events, book signings etc, but that is because I have this ‘thing’ about having a full collection of signed books and don’t like having gaps on my shelf. Beyond that, my stalker credentials are pretty poor. I never call, I never write, I have no idea where any of them live so have not yet succumbed to the urge (I don’t have one) to turn up and start rooting through their rubbish … I can’t even be arsed to look back through their social media feeds to see what they’ve been up to so unless I am online at just the right time I have literally no clue what is going on. I even have a book signed by another author confirming I am ‘Not a Stalker’ but that’s an entirely different story … Basically, I’m a definitely ‘Not A Stalker’. Not even a moderate one. Mildly obsessive yes. Stalker, no.
Why am I telling you this? Well, if you’ve bothered to read the blurb above, you’ll know that stalking is exactly what this latest psychological thriller from Paul Burston is all about. It’s raw, it’s chillingly believable and it’s highly personal for the author, but what it really is, most of all, is a damned good read.
When I heard that Paul Burston was joining #TeamOrenda I was very excited. I had an inkling that this was going to be a brilliant pairing and boy was I right. From the moment I started to read The Closer I Get I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. This is, on the surface, the story of author, Tom, and stalker, Evie. Evie goes to a book signing. Tom is polite. Signs the book. Makes an off the cuff remark about their being soul mates … Unleashes all manner of hell from there on in. From the very first chapter you get a real flavour of Evie’s character, a letter, from her to Tom, which starts to build the reader’s expectations of just how unstable she may be and just how fractious this ‘relationship’ is about to become.
Step back in time eight months and we start to build the picture of exactly where this story really began, meeting Tom formally at the point at which he makes his complaint about Evie’s behaviour towards him. It is the beginning of a long, slow and torturous process in which he tries to get some kind of restraining order or prosecution against Evie so that he can start to get his life back. But this is only part one of three. It’s only a mere fraction of the story. Only part of the picture.
I love the way in which Paul Burston has set this story up. He manages to establish the characters of Tom and Evie quickly, naturally drawing the lines of victim and aggressor. Now, don’t get me wrong, as a victim Tom is a bit of an arrogant ass, not entirely likeable, and it’s hard to feel complete sympathy for him, but you do really get to experience the way in which Evie’s attention affects him emotionally and physically. It has a real authentic vibe, creates a kind of visceral reaction within you as a reader. This is something that the author was sadly able to draw from personal experience to reflect upon in the writing. And he does so with aplomb as Evie is the kind of character who will make you sit and stare, incredulous and perhaps sometimes bewildered by the choices she makes.
Evie, Evie, Evie. What a deliciously deranged, clearly psychotic character. And yet, like all of the best psychotic characters in literature, one who is so controlled, so sure of herself and so absolutely positive that she is in the right all the time that she doesn’t even understand how seriously disturbing and scary her actions are. She is adamant that there is more between herself and Tom than he will attest to, and it is this absolute certainty which distorts the way in which you judge her. She denies her feelings or her problems to her court appointed therapist, her acerbic mental reactions actually bringing a smile to my face as I read, even as I drew back nervously. The letters we read in her voice are part of a journal she is encouraged to write, although I’m not convinced this is necessarily proving to be the best therapy … Her actions are obsessive, manic even at times, and yet in her own head she is able to rationalise things so clearly, so resolutely, that you almost begin to wonder if you are the mad one.
This book is dark, obsessive and disturbing for all of the right reasons. Neither of the central characters is perfect, both nearly perfectly flawed in fact, so much so that you don’t trust either of them. But there is just something so compelling about their story – it’s a kind of car crash tv moment waiting to happen, the kind that I found I just couldn’t turn away, no matter how much the two of them frustrated me at times. Thankfully there are some beautifully crafted supporting characters because if it was just about Tom and Evie it would become too intense. Too claustrophobic. There was Colin, Tom’s neighbour and unexepcted confident who I loved, and Emma, who … well, she’s a character alright! They add real texture and life to the story, allowing you more insight into who Tom really is, beyond the extensive author ego.
And then there is the exquisite way in which setting is brought in to play. The way in which Hastings, the town, the weather, the oppressive atmosphere of the mist and fog over the channel means it becomes a character in itself. It lends the narrative drama and tension at just the right moments, adding to the sense of slow building dread which reaches an oh so unexpected and brilliantly executed crescendo.
If you want to read a pitch perfect book on the very dark nature of obsession, of how easy it is for an individual to misread a simple action, be it in person, over social media, or a misinterpreted comment in an interview which ‘speaks’ to them, then do yourself a favour and buy the book. I can recognise the behaviour and character quirks of a few too many people I’ve met in both Evie and Tom and it scares me. A lot.
Disturbingly accurate, often chilling, and laced with a myriad of secrets and lies, you will witness the gradual devolution of two already fractured minds, drawing us onward with rapt attention, to an inevitable, shocking but absolutely superb conclusion. Loved it, and I’m loving my signed copy from Newcastle Noir too. #NotAStalker
The book is available in e-book right now from the links above and for the purists amongst you it’s out in paperback in July or in a lovely exclusive signed limited edition hardback (with sprayed edges no less!!) from Goldsboro Books, which I **may** also have on pre-order. A girl needs a full set after all!
p.s. #StillNotAStalker 😉
P.p.s. I am a dingbat. Review in haste, repent at leisure. In my excitement in getting this review written, I forgot to give it one of these … ⬇️