The Heights is a fun and twisty thriller. I devoured it in a couple of days, which, these days, is pretty rare for me. Ellen Saint’s world is rocked when she sees Kieran on a rooftop terrace: she blames Kieran for the death of her teenage son Lucas, and arranged to have him killed two years ago. Told within the frame narrative of a journalist reporting Ellen’s story, the main narration is from Ellen herself, writing her memoir, Saint or Sinner.
Because we initially meet Kieran through Ellen’s perspective, it’s easy to fall into her immediate suspicion of the teen. She tells us how rude he is, how much he leads her otherwise studious son Lucas astray into a life of partying and drugs, and how he seems to have an irrational hate-on for her, giving her menacing looks when no one else is looking. Only Lucas’ father Vic seems to share Ellen’s suspicions; both Ellen’s younger daughter Freya, and Lucas’ girlfriend Jade seem to have fallen for Kieran’s natural magnetism. And while Ellen’s husband Justin is more sympathetic to Ellen’s concerns, he mostly hand-waves them away as Lucas just being a regular rebellious teen. For me, at least, it was easy to share Ellen’s anxieties over Kieran, and to accept her word that he was responsible for Lucas’ death.
But then the circumstances around Lucas’ death are revealed, and it seems more a tragedy than a crime. And then we get a few chapters from Vic’s point of view, and it becomes clear that Ellen’s burning hatred for Kieran heavily colours her perspective, and that her grief over Lucas’ death has turned into an obsession. You start to question just how reliable her narration actually is.
Candlish hooked me from beginning to end with this story. As more and more layers are revealed, I shifted from sympathizing with Ellen, to sympathizing with practically everyone else around her, including Kieran himself. I did have an inkling of some of the later reveals, but mostly, the story kept me off-balance and guessing throughout. There’s a point when Ellen takes a full-on turn towards the dark side, in her quest to wreak revenge for Lucas’ death, and reading the story felt a bit like watching a train wreck: you desperately want someone to pull on the brakes, but you also can’t stop from watching the disaster unfold.
Overall, The Heights is a gripping, suspenseful, emotional read that will keep you turning the page. There are elements of tragedy, and the ending isn’t quite a happily-ever-after, but Candlish tells the tale with a brisk pace and a high gloss sheen that keeps even the darkest moments from tipping too far over the edge. Save this book for a weekend, and definitely don’t start reading it right before bed.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.