Book review: ‘What Alice Knew’ by T.A Cotterell

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Alice has a perfect life – a cool job, great kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; the phone rings and then goes dead; things don’t quite add up.

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

As far as thrillers go, it feels like many authors are striving towards reaching Gone Girl perfection. But with T.A Cotterell’s debut thriller What Alice Knew, it feels as though we’ve arrived in a newer, fresher territory from the first chapter. It’s a welcome change for readers, and one that sets it apart almost instantly.

What Alice Knew centres around Alice, a portrait artist with a relatively normal life, her husband Ed, a life-saving obstetrician, and her two kids. The picture perfect family is built up with the intention that it will eventually crumble, and crumble it does. Alice’s world is rocked when she discovers a truth that affects her day-to-day life forever. Unable to cope, she slowly finds herself swallowed by an unavoidable truth – one that Alice wishes she’d never pursued. The shattering of her world is felt acutely by the reader as we discover Alice’s innermost thoughts and begin to get a very real sense of the suffocation she is feeling throughout. Cotterell seems at his best when describing the increasing guilt Alice feels throughout the story, and in fact, her decisions become more and more questionable as the story continues. Ultimately, What Alice Knew begs the question: just how innocent and moral is everyone?

Cotterell’s strength also lies in presenting relationships that have been put to the test, and fractures steadily appear. Alice’s love for Ed is thrown into the spotlight, her past comes back to haunt her in the form of an old friend, and a visit home to her mother further throws her world into disarray. This novel is very much a pressure cooker in which Alice is bubbling away, finding relief in very little places. It is clichéd to label What Alice Knew a ‘voyage of self-discovery’, but by the end, Alice’s character develops vastly and creates the most unexpected of twists. It was a twist that had me scream ‘oh my God!’, slam the book shut and ponder, just for a few minutes, about what had just happened.

What Alice Knew is a fantastically dark thriller from Cotterell, bringing together tension and intrigue into a neatly packaged debut.

Rating: 8/10

T. A. Cotterell read History of Art at Cambridge University. He worked in the City before resigning to become a freelance writer. He is now a writer and editor at the research house Redburn. He is married with three children and lives in Bristol.

Follow T.A Cotterell on Twitter: @TACotterell1

The e-book version of What Alice Knew will be published December 2016, and its paperback in April 2017. Pre-order What Alice Knew on Amazon here.