Release date: September 01, 2020
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: One Step Behind is a mystery/thriller novel written by Lauren North, a British author who has previously written the psychological suspense novel “The Perfect Son.” It’s set to be released by Berkley Publishing group on September 1, 2020. The tagline for this novel reads, “A woman pushed to the breaking point by a stalker develops an obsession of her own in this shocking new novel.”
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: Jenna is a wife and mother of two who has been living a nightmare for the past year – she’s being stalked by an unknown assailant. She, her husband Stuart, and their children Beth (9) and Archie (6) live several streets away from the coast in a small town in England, where Jenna works as a doctor in the A&E department (Accident and Emergency, or the same as an ER, in the United States) at the local hospital. Jenna’s stalker leaves her little “gifts” on her doorstep each night, like burned dolls with scrubs on and melted faces…and he watches her and her family from behind trees, in the shadow of buildings, and in dark parking lots at night, whispering Jenna’s name.
Jenna and Stuart have rearranged their entire lives to accommodate this threatening stranger. Jenna drives her kids the few blocks to school to avoid a confrontation, after being followed on the walk there. She keeps a detailed diary of each incident for the police, making regular reports; her detective, DS Church, has even provided Jenna with clear evidence bags to use when she finds her stalker’s offerings each morning, in an attempt to preserve physical evidence that’s never there. Stuart installs A CCTV camera at their front door, which has proven fruitless at catching a glimpse of this mysterious figure; the suspect’s face and figure are hidden completely by a strategically placed umbrella, and eventually the camera is even disabled.
North did a very good job of adding red herrings and complex storylines; no one was completely a victim or villain, and everyone had a complex emotional backstory”
Jenna and her family are desperate to escape their constant anxiety and fear, but when the threats start to escalate, things seem like they’re falling apart. And then, one day, a young man is rushed into the ER with life-threatening injuries…and in the same clothes, and with the same umbrella, as Jenna’s stalker. Her terror is quickly replaced by a rush of adrenaline – the man who’s terrorized her for a year is off the streets, and better yet, she knows his identity. Her focus becomes single-minded: to find out why this man chose her as his victim, and why he’s been torturing her for months.
Jenna meets her stalker’s sister Sophie, who has ties to Jenna’s circle of friends and appears to be running from a controlling relationship of her own…while harboring the secret of why Jenna is possibly the victim. But as Jenna chases these new leads, her life continues to fall apart. Her insomnia becomes even worse, and the more she uncovers, the more confused she becomes. Then, the taunting emails start coming again…and gifts begin reappearing on her steps. Who IS this mysterious man in the hospital bed, and what is his story? Is he really the person torturing her, or is it someone closer to home? And how well does Jenna know the people she works with, parents with…even lives with?
MY THOUGHTS: This was my first read by North, and I really enjoyed this thriller. From a psychological point of view (which, not coincidentally, is North’s educational background), it was fascinating to see all of the ways in which Jenna was changed by her experience as a stalking victim. When the power seemingly shifted in her favor, it caused her to question not only her family and friends, but also her own moral compass. She had to make some difficult decisions, and she is forced to question whether she is becoming as obsessive and destructive as her stalker in her quest for answers.
Another reason I’ve given this book as many stars as I have is because North plotted the book brilliantly, and I couldn’t predict the twist. I’ve read many, MANY mystery/thrillers, and I can typically see a plot twist (and guess a murderer’s identity) within the first 30-50 pages (I see you, Ruth Ware…JT Ellison…BJ Paris…the list goes on). However, in this novel, I was completely surprised by the ending, even as it tied up the entire story neatly and didn’t leave any unanswered questions. This is honestly NO easy feat, and I loved it – any thriller where I don’t guess the ending makes me a happy reader.
North did a very good job of adding red herrings and complex storylines; no one was completely a victim or villain, and everyone had a complex emotional backstory. The back and forth between Jenna and Sophie’s present, and Sophie and Matthew’s past, was enough to keep the reader moving along and wondering what was coming next. I truly enjoyed the book and the suspense; I read it in 2 days, and I’ll definitely be picking up whatever North writes next.