I’ll admit I picked this up primarily because of its Dundee setting. ( I spent some of my childhood there so looked forward to seeing how the place would be described). I’m not a crime thriller aficionado and I was initially surprised by it. The word that kept running read this through my brain as I read on, was ‘domestic’. Not in a bad way, just because I kept thinking ‘if Jane Austen wrote crime fiction this might be the sort of thing she’d write. While there is the dark outsider, the stalker, the Nightwatcher of the title; the main action seems to revolve around a much more domestic picture and this seems to me to offer some of the strength of the novel. We are being shown that fear, caused by misuse of power, is at least as devastating when carried out on a domestic level as that caused by the ‘mad’ outsider. And since we all face fear on that domestic level, it’s a clever move adding a sort of reality to the story. My ‘domestic’ does not mean ‘mundane’ it simply means that the story revolves more around the daily lives, hopes and fears of a bunch of people who you might meet in any department store (where a lot of the novel is set). The detail of description of place and ‘costume’ also puts me in mind of something more domestic. It would perhaps be ‘mundane’ without the fear factor but the fear factor is the core of the novel.
The Nightwatcher himself is motivated by ‘evil’ and ‘the voice of God’ but the characters in this novel are more influenced by a more domestic version of evil, the power-struggles inherent in relationships, specifically in marital and extra marital relationships. I found both Nicole and Julie to be ‘nippy sweeties’ and Longmuir is brave in presenting no obvious hero/heroine to drive the story. Even her ‘anti-hero’ remains out of sight for most of the novel, lurking in the background as the personification of unseen fear. Most if not all of her characters are flawed (in the way that real people are) and while one might see Julie as the central protagonist on a redemptive journey, I’m not sure if that’s not stretching the point towards an unnecessary level of analysis.
For me, unused to plot driven stories, I found the ‘set up’ somewhat slow burn, but this was Longmuir’s method, reminiscent of that old Agatha Christie speciality, setting up everyone as a potential suspect. Once one got to the point in the novel where you were wondering who’s going to die next, and who’s doing all the killing, the pace really sparked up. And of course in the ending, nothing is as it seemed and there was always just one more twist. The ending would surely send crime/thriller readers towards Dead Wood, the ‘sequel’ which won the Dundee Book Prize in 2009, to find out what happens next. I’m guessing they won’t be disappointed.