Best Day Ever

Written by Kaira Rouda

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


Best Day Ever
H.Q.
RRP: £7.99
Released: September 7 2017
PBK

Paul Strom’s checklist for this day starts with “Drop kids with the babysitter” and ends with “Murder wife”. Writing in the first person singular with roughly scrawled times denoting chapter headings Strom records in excruciating detail his thoughts, reminiscences and actions throughout this his best day ever.

He proposes to bare his soul, informing us that he has learned to simulate emotions appropriate to the event, but that he does have genuine feelings: of anger and lust, sometimes pride in himself. In fact he is consumed by these and devoid of shame. He is an odious man wearing a cloak of charm: a psychopath. One reads voraciously, fascinated but appalled until the first spark of relief: his wealthy father-in-law, Donald Pilmer Jr., has seen through him to his murky dregs, and says so. Unfortunately, both Pilmer’s wife and his daughter are enthralled by Strom and after the marriage all the old man can do is set up and retain control of his grandsons’ trust funds.

Mia serves as a beautiful trophy wife until her health starts to deteriorate although there are periods of fragile stability; it’s to celebrate one of these that Strom has organized an elaborate weekend at the couple’s lakeside cabin. It starts with their departure from  the city, unencumbered by kids (or witnesses) and is designed to end after a gourmet dinner and a stroll under the stars.

The stumbling block is Buck, the friendly neighbourhood gardener at the lake, a mystery man. He is on hand for their arrival at the cabin and over the next few hours – which seem like an age – he comes to haunt Strom. Buck is surely the white knight who will rescue  the intended victim. If this were written in the third person the telling would seem mundane and surely predictable. But Strom is neither spectator nor reader; we are inside him, we are Strom as he sees obstacles and senses threats, then works to skirt or eliminate them.

So until the evening Buck is seen as little more than a nuisance, a simpleton, and the couple arrive at the  restaurant late but collected. Suddenly the plot changes gear, the action speeds up,  dialogue becomes barbed and fierce, secrets are revealed,  countered or denied.

The Stroms return to the cabin. The showdown is plausible and as satisfactory as it can be in the circumstances. Because mostly it’s what would have happened in real life rather than the climax to an almost unbearable crescendo. This is a psychiatrist’s case history from the inside and it’s terrifying.



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