Strangers, David Moody (Infected Books, 2014)

This standalone novel from the author of the Hater and Autumn series is rather devious. It seems, at first (and indeed for a considerable time), like a psychological thriller. A family moves from England to a small town in Scotland. It’s a desperation move: their business is gone, and — for reasons that remain cloudy for quite a while — they needed to get out of the city. The problem is, their new home is a dump, their new town is small and lifeless, and the squabbling among the family members threatens to pull them apart.

When people in the area start getting murdered, suspicion soon turns to the new people in town. Specifically to Scott, the father, who is — and this should not be understated — not a nice fellow. He treats his wife and kids like annoyances, he treats the people in his new town with a mixture of arrogance and ridicule, and (let’s face it) we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he did turn out to be a serial killer.

But is he? At some point, so subtly that you’d have to go back through the book and find the precise moment when it happens, the novel begins to transition from psychological thriller to out-and-out horror. And the question becomes: what is killing people in and around a small Scottish town?

If you’re familiar with Moody’s books, you know that his character-building is first-rate. Autumn might have been a standard-issue zombie story if its cast hadn’t been so well drawn, and Hater might not have worked at all if Danny McCoyne hadn’t been so abundantly human. The family in Strangers feels so real that we quickly find ourselves caring about them — the volatile and abusive Scott, who really is just trying to do the best for his family; his wife, Michelle, who loves and fears her husband; and their three children. When Moody unleashes the Big Surprise, our reaction isn’t: oh come on, really? It’s: what’s going to happen to these people now?

Strangers doesn’t have the brand recognition of Hater or Autumn, and that’s a bit of a shame. It’s a very good book, with some of Moody’s best, most dramatic writing.

Review copyright 2021 by David Pitt

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