‘No one is ever who they appear to be. Not me. Not you.’ This is the premise of Precious Thing, the debut novel of former BBC news correspondent turned novelist Colette McBeth. Clara O’Connor and Rachel Walsh meet at school and from that moment on they share everything – except the truth. Later in their twenties, Rachel has everything she wanted: career as a TV reporter, flat, fantastic boyfriend whilst Clara’s life has spiralled out of control, but the past is always there and will never let either of them go. One day Rachel is sent to Brighton to cover the story of a missing girl. When she arrives at the press conference, however, she sees that the missing girl is none other than Clara who apparently went missing after a night out with friends. The problem is Rachel was there that night and Clara didn’t show up. Rachel sets out to find the truth about her friend’s disappearance.
Written in the form of a letter to Clara, in a manner similar to Rosamund Lupton’s Sister, Precious Thing is a fast paced, chilling, psychological thriller. McBeth’s experience as a TV reporter herself shines through in this story giving it authenticity and weight as she uses details such as: ‘I stared at the earpiece. It wasn’t my own. This one had been used by someone else, the crumb of orange/brown wax told me as much.’ She’s obviously had a lot of experience of dealing with the police as their voices seemed utterly believable. I also enjoyed the window she provides into the workings of a newsroom: an environment seething with ambition where only the best survive.
I also loved the way McBeth built and maintained the relationship between Rachel and Clara. It’s creepy from the start:
‘I’m like one of my sunflowers under your gaze, Clara. Your friendship makes me feel special and alive where before I was empty and grey. It’s such a precious thing.’
As their relationship turns more and more toxic we find it harder to see who is telling us the truth. As the book says ‘The truth is always there. But only if you choose to see it.’ This creates the main thrust of the drama as the reader is thrown twist after twist in a breathless rush towards the denouement.
My only criticism is that both women are very unpleasant (as are a number of the secondary characters) and that made it hard to root for them. This is intentional, I’m sure, but giving them both some admirable qualities to leaven them a little would have enabled this reviewer to feel some sympathy towards them and, therefore, increased the tension as I would have cared more about what happened to them.
Any Cop?: Precious Thing is a creepy story of an obsessive relationship turned sour that will keep you hooked until the last page.