Invite me in is a well written, clever, yet frustrating thriller. The protagonist Eliza is quite infuriating from the get-go, a 30-something woman who allows her paraplegic husband Martin to completely manipulate and control every aspect of her life. Initially, you think she’s a doormat and you want to give her a good shake, and although that doesn’t really change as you read on, the reasons for that behaviour and your desire to shake her both grow as we learn more about Eliza and Martin’s history, and how they have come to be in the miserable situation they find themselves in.
Martin and Eliza have two young children, Lucas, 6, and Aurora, 3. Martin has been in a wheelchair since he was knocked off his motorbike in a road-traffic accident a number of years ago but his mind is still sharp as a tack and he now controls Eliza by threatening to expose her ‘secrets’. After his accident, using the large compensation pay out he received Martin employed his architect brother in law Pete to help him create the home of his dreams – an incredible, modern property named ‘Winterfell’ – adapted to allow Martin to live independently with his family. It even has a swimming pool in the basement. However beautiful and modern though Winterfell is to look at, it seems to have no heart, but Martin loves it, and it provides the perfect prison to keep Eliza in check.
The couple also own a number of properties. Eliza is checking over one of the flats one day ready for prospective tenants when Dan turns up on the doorstep. Full of apologies for not going through the official route he tells Eliza that the estate agent sent him there to see if he could jump the queue – Eliza is at first annoyed at this but Dan soon wins her around with his boyish charm and apologetic nature.
Martin is at first furious at this intrusion and tells Eliza to get rid of Dan and tell him that he can’t rent the flat but Dan also wins him around and the two become quite friendly, although there’s always an threatening undercurrent; surely Martin can see how his wife is responding to this handsome, charming newcomer? Indeed he seems to consistently enjoy making Eliza feel uncomfortable around Dan and encourages his presence in their home.
Meanwhile Dan quickly takes the opportunity to ingratiate himself into the family unit, taking up with the au pair and inserting himself in front of Eliza at almost every opportunity. He makes it clear he is interested in her on a personal level and there is a lot of angst as she wrestles with her growing feelings for Dan and her confusion at his erratic behaviour, her guilt at the growing hatred she feels for her husband and the jealousy she feels as Dan wines and dines the au pair who clearly loves rubbing her nose in their new and intimate relationship and takes liberties within Eliza’s house and also her relationship with Martin.
As events get too much for Eliza, addiction and old secrets rise to the surface, friendships are blown apart and relationships decline even further until she doesn’t know who’s there for her and who is causing her problems. There are clues in plain sight if you can see them but she can’t, or doesn’t want to.
I have to admit I didn’t enjoy reading this book – half the time it just felt like I was reading about a bunch of people I didn’t like being nasty to each other and the other half I spent feeling exasperation at some of the main character’s actions. It is explained that she has had previous trauma in her life that could lead her to make odd decisions, and of course her addictions don’t help. She’s also terrified of her husband exposing her secret – although I was quite disappointed at what that turned out to be – it was ultimately unprovable but Eliza is such a mess at times that you can see how she’d be intimidated by the constant threat.
Invite Me In has some important themes – domestic violence and mental cruelty feature strongly as do psychological and emotional manipulation from parents, spouses and pretty much most people involved in the plot– definitely not a feel good read! Things became a little too far-fetched for me towards the end and there were a few things that didn’t quite add up that annoyed me – helpful things appearing somewhere unlikely with no explanation, superhuman shows of strength, that kind of thing. On the positive side it’s well written and really draws you in to Eliza’s head as the story goes on, leaving you not quite sure which way is up. There was also a large cast of potential suspects for foul play that I couldn’t choose between and though I had my suspicions I was intrigued enough to want to find out who the culprit actually was and the motive behind it all.
Thanks to the Pigeonhole and the publishers for the opportunity to read an early copy of this book.
Published 22 July 2021 by Transworld Digital
About the author: Emma Curtis
Emma Curtis was born in Brighton and now lives in London with her husband. After raising her two children and working various jobs, her fascination with the darker side of domestic life inspired her to write her acclaimed debut novel, One Little Mistake. When I Find You is her second thriller.