Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Review: 'The Caretakers' by Eliza Maxwell

Isolated estates, tense family relationships and true crime documentaries. Nothing could be more perfect. I also adored the cover of The Caretakers which looks exactly like a still from one of Tessa Shepherd's films. Thanks to Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 4/14/2020
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

In the isolated estate she’s found the perfect getaway. But there’s no escaping the past in this chilling novel from the bestselling author of The Unremembered Girl.

Filmmaker Tessa Shepherd helped free a man she believed was wrongly imprisoned for murder. When he kills again, Tessa’s life is upended.

She’s reeling with guilt, her reputation destroyed. Worse, Tessa’s mother has unexpectedly passed away, and her sister, Margot, turns on her after tensions from their past escalate. Hounded by a bullying press, Tessa needs an escape. That’s when she learns of a strange inheritance bequeathed by her mother: a derelict and isolated estate known as Fallbrook. It seems like the perfect refuge.

A crumbling monument to a gruesome history, the mansion has been abandoned by all but two elderly sisters retained as caretakers. They are also guardians of all its mysteries. As the house starts revealing its dark secrets, Tessa must face her fears and right the wrongs of her past to save herself and her relationship with Margot. But nothing and no one at Fallbrook are what they seem.

True crime documentaries have seen a major surge in popularity over the last few years, starting with Netflix's bombshell Making a Murderer in 2015.  Many of these documentaries are thrilling, shocking and emotive, meant to take their audience on a journey to a very specific point. In some cases it is to prove innocence, in others to put the system itself on trial. For all of them, however, there is a clear narrative arc that has to end somewhere. Often you can't help but wonder what comes next. What about the rest of these people's lives. Are they happy now or have the years in prison or on trial been too much? What about the families of the victims? Are they happy now that someone is behind bars or, in the days after, does it begin to feel like less of a victory? As the popularity of these types of films has grown, so have think pieces on their benefits and downsides. An audience is easy to excite but will also drop its latest hero as soon as a new one comes along. What does this mean for those whose lives have been laid bare? It's a very interesting choice by Eliza Maxwell to make this a part of her novel and although she can't provide all the answers, it might allow true crime fans a chance to think it over themselves.

Tessa Shepherd has helped free an innocent man, Oliver. She is riding the waves of success, even if her family life is still messy and anxiety waits for her around every corner. That is until Oliver seemingly goes on a violent rampage, implicating her, and her mother unexpectedly dies. Now she has to not only face her twin sister, but also confront the interest of the media and police and her own family's past. It's a lot for one woman to shoulder but as she begins to unravel she also begins to discover the truth. I found Tessa to be a great protagonist. Her eye for a story, for a way to frame a scene, adds a lovely, meta-esque layer to The Caretakers that makes us consider how we look at things. Although The Caretakers is fast-paced, Maxwell takes the time to let the story's emotional beats resonate with the reader. Most fascinating was the relationship between Tessa and her sister, Margot, as well as the two sisters who act as caretakers, which is captured in glances, gestures and the venomous language only two sisters can unleash on each other.

This is my first book by Eliza Maxwell but I was completely engrossed in The Caretakers. I read it within an evening, fully aware I had work in the morning but unwilling to stop reading. Maxwell brings both Suspense and a sense of Magical Realism to her novel, which intertwine beautifully. The descriptions of Fallbrook, the crumbling estate with a secret, were stunning and allow both the reader and Tessa a little escape from the stress of the outside world. Maxwell also approaches both Oliver's case and Tessa's mental health with the right care and awareness, thereby avoiding a sense of sensationalism or exploitation of such personal topics. The twists and turns come fast in the last quarter of The Caretakers, making for a thrilling finale which feels earned. I saw some of them coming while others felt like a surprise. Maxwell ends her novel with a note of unease, which I myself very much enjoyed. Although books, like true crime documentaries, do come to an end, that doesn't always mean the whole story has been told. 

I give this novel..
4 Universes!

I blazed right through The Caretakers and still find myself thinking about Fallbrook and its lushes woods and dark history. Maxwell has written a fast-paced, thrilling suspense novel perfect for fans of true crime and those with a love for Magical Realism.

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