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“Other authors are at a ten out of ten, for me, and Lisa is a solid hundred.” –Gillian McAllister, The Sunday Times (London) bestselling author of Wrong Place Wrong Time
The #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell weaves a “simply masterful” (Samantha Downing, internationally bestselling author) thriller about twisted marriages, fractured families, and deadly obsessions in this standalone sequel to The Family Upstairs.
Early one morning on the shore of the Thames, DCI Samuel Owusu is called to the scene of a gruesome discovery. When Owusu sends the evidence for examination, he learns the bones are connected to a cold case that left three people dead on the kitchen floor in a Chelsea mansion thirty years ago.
Rachel Rimmer has also received a shock–her husband, Michael, has been found dead in the cellar of his house in France. All signs point to an intruder, and the French police need her to come urgently to answer questions about Michael and his past that she very much doesn’t want to answer.
After fleeing London thirty years ago in the wake of a horrific tragedy, Lucy Lamb is finally coming home. While she settles in with her children and is just about to purchase their first house, her brother takes off to find the boy from their shared past whose memory haunts their present.
As they all race to discover answers to these convoluted mysteries, they will come to find that they’re connected in ways they could have never imagined.
In this masterful standalone sequel to her haunting New York Times bestseller The Family Upstairs, “Lisa Jewell is a superb writer at the top of her game” (Karin Slaughter, New York Times bestselling author) with another jaw-dropping, intricate, and affecting novel about the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love and uncover the truth.
THE FAMILIES OF 16 CHEYNE WALK
Henry Lamb Sr. and Martina Lamb
Henry Lamb Jr., their son, who also calls himself Phineas Thomson
Lucy Lamb, their daughter, once married to Michael Rimmer; mother to Libby, Marco, and Stella
Libby Jones, Lucy's daughter, formerly Serenity Lamb; in a relationship with journalist Miller Roe
David Thomsen and Sally Thomsen
Clemency Thomsen, their daughter, now living in Cornwall
Phineas Thomsen, their son, also referred to as Finn Thomsen, now living in Botswana
Birdie Dunlop-Evers, musician
Justin Redding, Birdie's boyfriend
Groggy with sleep, Rachel peered at the screen of her phone. A French number. The phone slipped from her hand onto the floor and she grabbed it up again, staring at the number with wide eyes, adrenaline charging through her even though it was barely seven in the morning.
Finally she pressed reply. She drew in her breath. "Hello?"
"Bonjour, good morning. This is Detective Avril Loubet from the Police Municipale in Nice. Is this Mrs. Rachel Rimmer?"
"Yes," she replied. "Speaking."
"Mrs. Rimmer. I am afraid I am calling you with some very distressing news. Please, tell me. Are you alone?"
"Yes. Yes, I am."
"Is there anyone you can ask to be with you now?"
"My father. He lives close. But please. Just tell me."
"Well, I am afraid to say that this morning the body of your husband, Michael Rimmer, was discovered by his housekeeper in the basement of his house in Antibes."
Rachel made a sound, a hard intake of breath with a whoosh, like a steam train. "Oh," she said. "No!"
"I'm so sorry. But yes. And he appears to have been murdered, with a stab wound, several days ago. He has been dead at least since the weekend."
Rachel sat up straight and moved the phone to her other ear. "Is it—Do you know why? Or who?"
"The crime scene officers are in attendance. We will uncover every piece of evidence we can. But it seems that Mr. Rimmer had not been operating his security cameras and his back door was unlocked. I am very sorry, I don't have anything more definite to share with you at this point, Mrs. Rimmer. Very sorry indeed."
Rachel turned off her phone and let it drop onto her lap.
She stared blankly for a moment toward the window, where the summer sun was leaking through the edges of the blind. She sighed heavily. Then she pulled her sleep mask down, turned onto her side, and went back to sleep.
I am Henry Lamb. I am forty-two years old. I live in the best apartment in a handsome art deco block just around the corner from Harley Street. How do I know it's the best apartment? Because the porter told me it was. When he brings a parcel up—he doesn't need to bring parcels up, but he's nosy, so he does—he peers over my shoulder and his eyes light up at the slice of my interior that he can see from my front door. I used a designer. I have exquisite taste, but I just don't know how to put tasteful things together in any semblance of visual harmony. No. I am not good at creating visual harmony. It's OK. I'm good at lots of other things.
I do not currently—quite emphatically—live alone. I always thought I was lonely before they arrived. I would return home to my immaculate, expensively renovated flat and my sulky Persian cats, and I would think, oh, it would be so nice to have someone to talk to about my day. Or it would be so nice if there was someone in the kitchen right now preparing me a lovely meal, unscrewing the cap from a bottle of something cold or, better still, mixing me something up in a cocktail glass. I have felt very sorry for myself for a very long time. But for a year now, I have had house guests—my sister, Lucy, and her two children—and I am never, ever alone.
There are people in my kitchen constantly, but they're not mixing me cocktails or shucking oysters, they're not asking me about my day; they're using my panini maker to produce what they call "toasties," they're making hot chocolate in the wrong pot, they're putting non-recyclables in my recycling bin and vice versa. They're watching noisy, unintelligible things on the smartphones I bought them and shouting at each other when there's really no need. And then there's the dog. A Jack Russell terrier–type thing that my sister found on the streets of Nice five years ago scavenging in bins. He's called Fitz and he adores me. It's mutual. I'm a dog person at heart and got the cats only because they're easier for selfish people to look after. I did a test online—What's Your Ideal Cat Breed?—answered thirty questions, and the result came back: Persian. I think the test was correct. I'd only ever known one cat before, as a child, a spiteful creature with sharp claws. But these Persians are in a different realm entirely. They demand that you love them. You have no choice in the matter. But they do not like Fitz the dog and they do not like me liking Fitz the dog and the atmosphere between the animals is horrendous.
My sister moved in last year for reasons that I barely know how to begin to convey. The simple version is that she was homeless. The more complicated version would require me to write an essay. The halfway version is that when I was ten years old our (very large) family home was infiltrated by a sadistic con man and his family. Over the course of more than five years the con man took control of my parents' minds and systematically stripped them of everything they owned. He used our home as his own personal prison and playground and was ruthless in getting exactly what he wanted from everyone around him, including his own wife and children. Countless unspeakable things happened during those years, including my sister getting pregnant at thirteen, giving birth at fourteen, and leaving her ten-month-old baby in London and running away to the south of France when she was only fifteen. She went on to have two more children by two more men, kept them fed and clothed with money earned by busking with a violin on the streets of Nice, spent a few nights sleeping rough, and then decided to come home when (among many other things) she sensed that she might be in line for a large inheritance from a trust fund set up by our dead parents.
So, the good news is that last week that trust finally paid out and now—a trumpet fanfare might be appropriate here—she and I are both millionaires, which means that she can buy her own house and move herself, her children, and her dog out, and that I will once more be alone.
And then I will have to face the next phase of my life.
Forty-two is a strange age. Neither young nor old. If I were straight, I suppose I'd be frantically flailing around right now trying to find a last-minute wife with functioning ovaries. As it is, I am not straight, and neither am I the sort of man that other men wish to form lengthy and meaningful relationships with, so that leaves me in the worst possible position—an unlovable gay man with fading looks.
Kill me now.
But there is a glimmer of something new. The money is nice, but the money is not the thing that glimmers. The thing that glimmers is a lost jigsaw piece of my past, a man I have loved since we were both boys in my childhood house of horrors. A man who is now forty-three years old, sporting a rather unkempt beard and heavy-duty laughter lines and working as a gamekeeper in Botswana. A man who is—plot twist—the son of the con man who ruined my childhood. And also—secondary plot twist—the father of my niece Libby. Yes, Phineas impregnated Lucy when he was sixteen and she was thirteen, and yes, that is wrong on many levels and you might have thought that that would put me off him, and for a while it did. But we all behaved badly in that house; not one of us got out of there without a black mark. I've come to accept our sins as survival strategies.
I have not seen Phineas Thomsen since I was sixteen and he was eighteen. But last week at my niece's birthday party, my niece's boyfriend, who is an investigative journalist, told us that he had tracked him down for her. A kind of über-thoughtful birthday present for his girlfriend. Look! I got you a long-lost dad!
And now here I am, on a bright Wednesday morning in June, cloistered away in the quiet of my bedroom, my laptop open, my fingers caressing the touch pad, gently guiding the cursor around the website for the game reserve where he works, the game reserve I intend to be visiting very, very shortly.
Phin Thomsen was how I knew him when we lived together as children.
Finn Thomsen is the pseudonym he's been hiding behind all these years.
I was so close. An F for a Ph. All these years, I could have found him if I'd just thought to play around with the alphabet. So clever of him. So clever. Phin was always the cleverest person I knew. Well, apart from me, of course.
I jump at the sound of a gentle knocking at my bedroom door. I sigh. "Yes?"
"Henry, it's me. Can I come in?"
It's my sister. I sigh again and close the lid of my laptop. "Yes, sure."
She opens the door just wide enough to slide through and then closes it gently behind her.
Lucy is a lovely looking woman. When I saw her last year for the first time since we were teenagers, I was taken aback by the loveliness of her. She has a face that tells stories, she looks all of her forty years, she barely grooms herself, she dresses like a bucket of rags, but somehow she still always looks lovelier than any other woman in the room. It's something about the juxtaposition of her amber-hazel eyes with the dirty gold streaks in her hair, the weightlessness of her, the rich honey of her voice, the way she moves and holds herself and touches things and looks at you. My father looked like a pork pie on legs and my lucky sister snatched all her looks from our elegant half-Turkish mother. I have fallen somewhere between the two camps. Luckily, I have my mother's physique but, sadly, more than my fair share of my father's coarse facial features. I have done my best with what nature gave me. Money can't buy you love but it can buy you a chiseled jaw, perfectly aligned teeth, and plumped-up lips.
My bedroom fills with the perfume of the oil my sister uses on her hair, something from a brown glass bottle that looks like she bought it from a country fair.
"I wanted to talk to you," she says, moving a jacket off a chair in the corner of my room so that she can sit down. "About last week, at Libby's birthday dinner?"
I fix her with her a yes, I'm listening, please continue look.
"What you were saying, to Libby and Miller?"
Libby is my niece. The daughter Lucy had with Phin when she was fourteen. Miller is Libby's journalist boyfriend. I nod.
"About going to Botswana with them?"
I nod again. I know what's coming.
"Were you serious?"
"Yes. Of course I was."
"Do you think—do you think it's a good idea?"
"Yes. I think it's a wonderful idea. Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know. I mean, it's meant to be a romantic holiday, just for the two of them…"
I tut. "He was talking about taking his mother; he can't have intended it to be that romantic."
Obviously, I'm talking nonsense, but I'm feeling defensive. Miller wants to take Libby to Botswana to be reunited with the father she hasn't seen since she was a baby. But Phin is also a part of me. Not just a part of me, but nearly all of me. I've literally (and I'm using the word "literally" here in its most literal sense) thought about Phin at least once an hour, every hour, since I was sixteen years old. How can I not want to go to him now, right now?
"I won't get in their way," I offer. "I will let them do their own thing."
"Right," says Lucy doubtfully. "And what will you do?"
"I'll…" I pause. What will I do? I have no idea. I will just be with Phin.
And then, after that—well, we shall see, shan't we?
Rachel met Michael in a pharmacy in Martha's Vineyard in the late summer of 2016. She was waiting for a prescription for the morning-after pill to be dispensed to her by a very young and somewhat judgy man. Michael stepped ahead of her and greeted the pharmacist with a brisk "Is it done yet?"
The judgy pharmacist blinked slowly and said, "No, sir, it is not. Could I ask you to take a seat? It won't be much longer."
Michael took the seat next to Rachel. He folded his arms and he sighed. She could sense that he was about to talk to her, and she was right.
"That guy," he muttered, "is just a delight."
She laughed and turned to study him. Fortyish, to her thirtyish. Tanned, of course; at the end of a long Martha's Vineyard summer, there was nobody left without a tan. His hair was due a cut; he was probably waiting until he got back to the city.
"He's a bit judgy," she replied in a low whisper.
"Yes," he agreed, "yes. Strange, in one so young."
Rachel, at the time, had been conscious of the only-just-showered-off sweat of a boy called Aiden still clinging to her skin, the tender spots on her inner thighs where his hip bones had ground into her flesh, the sugary smell of his young-man beer breath lingering in the crooks and crevices of her body. And now she was here, flirting with a man old enough to be Aiden's father while waiting for emergency contraception.
It really was time for Rachel to go home now. The summer had been desperate and dirty, and she was used and spent.
The pharmacist pulled a paper bag from a clip on the carousel behind him and peered at the label. "Ms. Rachel Gold?" he called out. "I have your prescription."
"Oh." She smiled at Michael. "That's me. Hope you don't have to wait too long."
"Line jumper," said Michael with a sardonic smile.
She typed her PIN into the card reader and took the bag from the pharmacist. When she turned to leave, Michael was still looking at her. "Where are you from?" he asked.
"Yeah, obviously, but whereabouts in England?"
"And whereabouts in London?"
"Do you know London?"
"I have an apartment in Fulham."
"Oh," she said. "Right. I live in Camden Town."
"Erm." She laughed.
"Sorry. I'm an Anglophile. I'm obsessed with the place. No more questions. I'll let you get on, Rachel Gold."
She lifted her other hand in a vague farewell and walked quickly through the shop, through the door, onto the street.
Two months later, Rachel was eating lunch at her desk in her studio when an email appeared in her inbox titled "From the American Anglophile to the English Line Jumper."
It took her a beat or two, her brain trying to unscramble the sequence of seemingly unconnected words. And then she clicked it open:
Hi Rachel Gold,
This is Michael. We met in a pharmacy in Martha's Vineyard back in August. You smelled of wood smoke and beer. In a good way. I'm going to be staying in London for a few months and wondered if there was anywhere in Camden you'd recommend for me to explore. I haven't really been to the area since I was a teenager—I was looking to score some hash and ended up buying a stripy rucksack and a bong instead. I'm sure there's more to the locale than the market and the drug dealers, though, and I'd love an insider's point of view. If you are reeling in horror at the appearance of this missive in your inbox, please do delete/ignore/call the police. (No, don't call the police!) But otherwise, it would be great to hear from you. And my slightly anal knowledge of London postcodes led me to your email address, by the way. I googled "Rachel Gold" then "NW1," and up you popped on your website. How apt that a jewelry designer should have the surname Gold. If only my surname were Diamond we'd make the perfect couple. As it is, it's Rimmer. Make of that what you will. Anyway, I'll hear from you if I hear from you, and if I don't, I'll buy something from your website and give it to my mother for her birthday. You're very, very talented.
Rachel sat for a moment, her breath held, trying to decide whether she wanted to smile or grimace. She brought the man's face back to mind, but she couldn't find the full extent of it. Michael C. Hall's face kept appearing and smudging it out. At the bottom of his email, though, was a company name. MCR International. She googled it and brought up an anonymous-looking website for what appeared to be some sort of logistics/haulage-type organization, with an address in Antibes in the south of France. She googled "Michael Rimmer Antibes" and, after some hunting around, finally found him on a website for local news, clutching a champagne flute at a party to celebrate the launch of a new restaurant. She blew his face up and stared at it for a while on her screen. He looked nothing like Michael C. Hall. He looked…basic handsome is how she would describe it. Basic handsome. But in the way his white T-shirt met the waistband of a pair of blue jeans there was something sexual. Not tucked in. Not pulled down. Just skimming the edges of each other. An invitation of sorts. She found it surprisingly and suddenly thrilling and when her eye returned to his face, he looked more than basic handsome. He looked hard. Almost cruel. But Rachel didn't mind that in a man. It could work in her favor if she wanted it to.
She shut the email down. She would reply. She would meet him. She would have sex with him. All of this she knew. But not yet. Keep him waiting for a while. She was in no rush, after all.
I go for a run the following morning. I must be honest and say that I really don't like running. But then, neither do I like going to the gym and seeing all those perfect boys who don't even glance in my direction. The gym used to be my playground, but no longer. Now I dress down, keep my eyes low, grit my teeth until I feel that comforting, satisfying connection between my feet, the ground, my thoughts, and the beat of the music in my ears, and I keep doing that until I've done a full circuit of Regent's Park. Then my day is my own.
But today I can't find that sweet spot. My breath grinds through my lungs and I keep wanting to stop, to sit down. It feels wrong. Everything has felt wrong since I found out that Phin still exists.
My feet connect with the tarmac so hard I can almost feel the bumps of the aggregate through the soles of my trainers. The sun appears suddenly through a soft curtain of June cloud, searing my vision. I pull on my sunglasses and finally stop running.
I've lost my way. And only Phin can guide me back.
I call Libby when I return home.
She is so very the sort of person who says "hello, you."
I return it as fulsomely as I can manage. "Hello, you!"
"New? Oh, nothing really. Just had a run. And a shower. Just thinking about what we were discussing at your birthday dinner the other night."
"Yes, the safari. Lucy says I shouldn't come."
"She thinks that you and Miller want it to be a romantic getaway for just the two of you."
"Oh, no, nonsense. Of course you'd be welcome to come. But we've hit a snag."
"Yes. Miller called the lodge the other day to ask about an extra person on the booking and apparently Phin has…" She pauses.
I sit heavily on the nearest chair, my jaw hanging slack with shock. "Gone?"
"Yes. Said he had a family emergency. Didn't know when he'd be back."
"But…" I pause. I'm fuming. Libby's boyfriend, Miller, is a well-regarded investigative journalist. He's spent a year of his life tracking Phin down (not for me, you understand, but for Libby), and then five seconds after finally tracing him, Miller's clearly done something utterly stupid that has resulted in Phin taking flight, the journalistic equivalent of stepping on a twig during a stag hunt.
"I don't understand," I say, trying to sound calm. "What went wrong?"
Libby sighs and I picture her touching the tips of her eyelashes as she often does when she's talking. "We don't know. Miller could not have been more discreet when he made the booking. The only thing we thought is that Phin somehow recognized my name. We assumed, you know, that he would only have known me by my birth name. But maybe he knew my adopted name. Somehow."
"I'm assuming, of course, that Miller made his own booking under a pseudonym?"
There's a brief silence. I sigh and run my hand through my wet hair. "He must have, surely?"
"I don't know. I mean, why would he need to?"
"Because he wrote a five-thousand-word article about our family that ran in a broadsheet magazine only four years ago. And maybe Phin does more than just sit on jeeps looking masterful. Maybe he, you know, uses the internet?" I clamp my mouth shut. Nasty nasty nasty. Don't be nasty to Libby. "Sorry," I say. "Sorry. It's just frustrating. That's all. I just thought…"
"I know," she says. "I know."
But she doesn't know. She doesn't know at all.
"So," I say, "what are you planning to do? Are you still going?"
"Not sure," she replies. "We're thinking about it. We might postpone."
"Or you could…" I begin, as a potential solution percolates. "…find out where he's gone?"
"Yes. Miller's doing a bit of work on the reservations guy. Seeing what he can wheedle out of him. But seems like no one there really knows much about Phin Thomsen."
I draw the conversation to a close. Things that I cannot discuss with Libby are buzzing in particles through my mind and I need peace and quiet to let them form their shapes.
I go to the website again, for Phin's game reserve. It's a very worthy game reserve. Internationally renowned. Unimpeachable ecological, environmental, social credentials. Phin, of course, would only work in such a place.
He told me when he was fifteen years old that he was going to be a safari guide one day. I have no idea what route he took from the house of horrors we grew up in to get there, but he did it. Did I want to be the founding partner of a trendy boutique software-design solutions company, back then, when I was a child? No, of course I didn't. I wanted to be whatever life threw at me. The thing that I would be after I'd done all the normal things that people do when they haven't grown up in a house of horrors and then spent their young adulthood living alone in bedsits, with no academic qualifications, no friends, and no family. I wanted to be that thing. But, in the story that this spinning Rolodex of endless and infinite universes gave to me, this is where I am and I should be glad and grateful. And in a way I am. I guess in another of those universes I might, like my father before me, have sat and got fat while waiting for my parents to die so that I could claim my inheritance. I might have lived a life of boredom and indolence. But I had no option other than to work and I've made a success of my life and I guess that's a good thing, isn't it?
But Phin, of course, Phin knew what he wanted even then. He didn't wait to be formed by the universe. He shaped the universe to his will.
I head into work and find the same lack of focus plagues me through a conference call and two meetings. I snap at people I've never snapped at before and then feel filled with self-loathing. When I get home at seven that evening, my nephew, Marco, is wedged onto the sofa with a friend from school, a pleasant boy I've met before and have made an effort to be nice to. He gets to his feet when I walk in and says, "Hi, Henry, Marco said it was OK if I came. I hope you don't mind." His name is Alf and he is delightful. But right now I don't want him on my sofa, and I don't even spare him a smile. I grunt: "Please tell me you're not planning to cook?"
Alf throws Marco an uncertain look; then they both shake their heads. "No," says Alf, "no, we were just going to hang."
I nod tersely and head to my room.
- On Sale
- Aug 9, 2022
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Hachette Book Group