The Bad Daughter by Joy Fielding - book review: Expect drama, emotional intensity and menace

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A family drama with the deepest and darkest of hearts delivers wintertime chills and thrills in a gripping new mystery from Joy Fielding, the Canadian queen of psychological suspense.

Fielding, author of Someone Is Watching and See Jane Run, plunges readers into a whirling, swirling vortex of lies, paranoia and electrifying suspicion as we follow a Los Angeles psychologist on a harrowing journey to discover who shot her father, stepmother and 12-year-old stepsister.

Scattering her trademark clues, red herrings and cupboards full of disturbing family secrets and skeletons, this canny and acutely observant storyteller keeps us on the edge of our seats as we piece together the past and present to unveil a merciless killer.

It’s been six years since 33-year-old Robin Davis turned her back on her wealthy and philandering property developer father Greg when he married her best friend Tara who, in a further complication, had been engaged to Robin’s brother, Alec. And to make matters worse, they wed only five months after Robin’s mother had died.

Therapist Robin also turned her back on her small hometown of Red Bluff, California, and is now working in Los Angeles and living with her lawyer boyfriend Blake. Yet even with all that distance and time, the past is always with Robin and the painful legacy is that she is plagued by panic attacks.

Now, a voice mail from her estranged sister, Melanie, is setting Robin’s heart racing and her mind spiralling into a full-blown panic attack. Melanie’s message is dire… their father, Tara, and Tara’s 12-year-old daughter Cassidy from her first marriage have been shot by an intruder at their luxury home and they are all in hospital in a critical condition.

With a heavy heart, Robin has no choice but to return to the family she left behind. As she attempts to mend fences while her father clings to life, Robin begins to wonder if there is more to the tragedy than a botched burglary attempt.

It seems that everyone – her persistently angry and sardonic sister Melanie who hated Robin from the moment she was born, Melanie’s autistic teenage son Landon who is subject to wild mood swings, her absent brother Alec who still resents their father, and even Tara – has something to hide.

All the family members have their secrets and problems – including Robin – but someone uncomfortably close to home has put them all in terrible danger…

Characterisation is always key in Fielding’s masterful domestic noirs and this slow-burn page-turner features a beautifully drawn and intriguing dysfunctional family, awash in resentment, jealousy, distrust and dangerous mental instability.

The caustic, sharp-tongued Melanie, and her bitter relationship with her skittish sister Robin, is one of the highlights of this superbly plotted mystery which raises more and more questions as the temperature rises and the list of suspects continues to grow.

Expect drama, emotional intensity and menace as Fielding draws together the strands of her multi-layered story before it twists, turns and then explodes into a jaw-dropping and devastating finale.

Gritty, gripping and engrossing…

(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)