Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Keeper by Jessica Moor

He’s been looking in the windows again. Messing with cameras. Leaving notes.
Supposed to be a refuge. But death got inside.

When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police decide it’s an open-and-shut case. A standard-issue female suicide.

But the residents of Widringham women’s refuge where Katie worked don’t agree. They say it’s murder.

Will you listen to them?

There were so many moments reading Jessica Moor’s Keeper when I had to remind myself that this is a debut novel. Compelling and powerful, this is a novel that reads like the work of an assured novelist, effortlessly combining the page-turning quality of a thriller with stylistic literary touches and a spare yet layered tone.

Before I go any further with my review of Keeper, a word on trigger warnings. The novel does not shy away from the grim realities of domestic abuse and systematic misogyny. Whilst never voyeuristic or unnecessary, the novel contains scenes that recount incidents of domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, gas-lighting, and coercive control. There are also mentions of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, drug addiction, prostitution, internet abuse/trolling, and systematic misogyny. In telling its powerful and sadly all too relevant story, Keeper puts on the page what many novels only imply. This makes for an intensely vivid and compelling story but also a disturbing and deeply chilling one.

Alternating between two timelines, the novel opens with the body of Katie Straw being pulled from a known suicide spot. Katie worked at the local women’s refuge, a controversial space within the small town of Widringham. According to Katie’s boss Val, the refuge has been receiving abuse on Twitter. The women who reside there speak of a man hanging around, a car idling nearby, and a locked gate left open. Coincidence? The police would like to think so. DS Daniel Whitworth is on the cusp of retirement. Whilst he knows he has a job to do, Katie’s history of depression and the manner of her death point to suicide. But the more he digs into Katie Straw’s life, the more there seems to be that would suggest her death is anything but straightforward.

Intervening into the details of the investigation into Katie’s death are sections entitled ‘Then’. Told from Katie’s perspective, these look back on her relationship with Jamie who effortlessly inserts himself into her life before slowly isolating her from her friends and family and even from her own self. These chapters were, for me, the most unsettling within the novel as they show how easy it is for an accomplished manipulator such as Jamie to take control of Katie’s thought patterns and for their relationship to shift into firstly emotional and then, later, physical and sexual, abuse.

Other chapters are told from the perspective of the women within the refuge where Katie worked, as well as from the point of view of DS Whitworth. Whitworth is an interesting character because, although he is old-fashioned and jaded in his attitudes, he does seem to be in some way aware of his own failings. On some level, he knows that he doesn’t really understand Katie or the women in the refuge who knew her and so he’s content to leave much of the talking to his trainee, DS Brookes, whose easy charm and placating manner eases nerves and opens doors. This makes for an interesting dynamic that plays with the reader’s perceptions, expectations and sympathies – and makes for a truly fantastic twist in the tale!

The voices of the women within the refuge, as well as that of Katie herself, are really well captured and their respective circumstances show that, despite what the media might have us believe, there is no such thing as an ‘average’ domestic violence victim. From the motherly Angie, who has spent over 40 years married to her abusive husband, to formerly well-off housewife Lynne, struggling to adjust to the life she has apparently chosen for her and her daughter, each of the women has a distinct yet realistic story – and each is wrestling with the reality of what has happened to them, and what they are going to do next. The sheer complexity and variety of their stories – and the way in which their narratives are interwoven with wider issues of societal and systematic misogynies – is heartbreakingly realistic and made me both extremely sad and extremely angry.

Keeper is not for the faint-hearted then. Brutally immersive and unflinching in its depictions of the issues it touches upon, it is a hard-hitting and insightful debut that offers pace and page-turning compulsion with some clever and stylistic literary twists. Emotionally devastating and viscerally told, this incisive debut is not exactly a pleasant read but it is a deeply important one and I look forward to seeing what Jessica Moor writes next.

Keeper by Jessica Moor is published by Penguin Viking and is available now in ebook and paperback from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Georgia Taylor from Penguin for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 01 February 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

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