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The Only Suspect


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About The Book

From the internationally bestselling author of The Other Passenger and The Heights comes a new explosive thriller about obsession and deadly secrets.

There’s the obvious story. And then there’s the truth.

Alex lives a comfortable life with his wife, Beth, in the leafy suburb of Silver Vale. Fine, so he’s not the most extroverted guy on the street, he prefers to keep himself to himself, but he’s a good husband and an easy-going neighbour.

That’s until Beth announces the creation of a nature trail on a local site that’s been disused for decades, and suddenly Alex is a changed man. Now he’s always watching. Questioning. Struggling to hide his dread...

As the landscapers get to work, a secret threatens to surface from years ago, back in Alex’s twenties when he got entangled with a seductive young woman called Marina, who threw both their lives into turmoil.

And who sparked a police hunt for a murder suspect that was never quite what it seemed.

It still isn’t.


Chapter 1: Alex 1 Alex
May, present

Black skies would have made a more fitting backdrop, some monstrous winter storm that tore the house from its foundations, but as it transpired the moment he’d been dreading for twenty-five years came on a still, gentle morning in May.

Well, not the moment exactly, but the precursor of it. The beginning of the end.

It was the weekend and he and Beth were at the kitchen table in their pyjamas, drinking coffee and scrolling through the news on their phones, when she exclaimed: ‘Yay, the council’s finally given the go-ahead for the trail! Dulcie’s literally just got the email. Isn’t that fabulous?’

‘The trail. Right.’ This was as much as he could muster before his body went into a kind of arrest, a frankly terrifying sensation, as if he might look down and see his limbs crumble to dust in front of him.

Get a grip, Alex. You knew this would happen.

Ever since that damn campaign was launched two years ago, it had only ever been a matter of time, for Beth’s compadres – Dulcie and Samira and the rest of them – were typical thirty- and forty-something Silver Vale women and mostly mums, which was to say committed to the point of psychotic.

‘Persistence beat resistance in the end then,’ he said with an approximation of good cheer.

‘Always does, Alex. Always does.’

That had been one of the slogans of the trail committee: ‘Persistence Beats Resistance’. There’d been something different to begin with – ‘Take Back the Track’, maybe – but once it became clear that the council were playing silly buggers, fighting talk prevailed and suddenly they were all Churchill.

We shall never surrender!

‘Can you let Olive out, babe,’ Beth said, and thankfully he’d recovered sufficient bodily function to get to his feet and open the door for their collie cross, who promptly pivoted and skittered straight back inside. Alex slipped her a treat before settling back in his seat. He was experiencing a weird cartoonish spasm in his jaw that he knew must be visible, but Beth was too busy thumbing through her messages to notice.

‘You know, the more I think about it, the more I think how bloody criminal it’s been to keep it blocked off all these years. Everyone knows how easy it is to climb over the barriers – it’s been way more dangerous closed than open. I mean, the kind of people who’ve been hanging out up there… Druggies, winos, all the rest of it. It’s been a security risk this whole time.’

These were comments she’d made a hundred times before and that he’d routinely nodded along with. He’d stopped short of participating in the campaign, however, intent on keeping his local profile limbo-dancer low. The last thing he wanted was for Silver Vale to come under the spotlight a second time; it would only resurrect interest in the first.

Not that he could say this to Beth.

Sometimes when he looked at her, at that enviably sharp jawline, those bright, busy eyes the exact same shade of burnt umber as her hair, he caught himself wondering how he had come to have this wife and not the one he’d once fantasized about. How he’d come to find himself here, in Silver Vale, of all places, resident now for over a decade and passing for the most part as a contented suburban husband and homeowner.

He’d never told Beth he knew the area from before. When she’d first invited him back, almost twelve years ago now, they’d only known each other a few hours and he hadn’t heard the address she’d given to the taxi driver. He wasn’t exactly paying attention to the route, either – it was late at night and tipping down with rain, and in any case they were kissing – and he’d only twigged where they were when they passed the parade of shops on Surrey Road and took an abrupt left uphill. That was what made him break away from her and peer for a street name – Exmoor Gardens – at which point his lungs tightened with a horrible asthmatic panic he hadn’t felt for years.

‘This is… This is your street?’

‘No, but we’re almost there,’ she said, mistaking his urgency for lust and clutching him again, and it was then that he glimpsed, through flyaway strands of her hair, the Stanleys’ old place. The driveway had the same layout as before, smartly landscaped now and with a huge people carrier parked where Drew’s BMW used to be. Moments later, the taxi turned right into a street of old railway cottages he’d forgotten all about – Long Lane, that was it. Beth’s place was in the middle, directly opposite the steps to the track.

The second they stumbled inside, he excused himself and went straight to her bathroom, where he vomited into the toilet bowl and sluiced his mouth with the Listerine he found in the cabinet. Amazing he’d got away with it, when you thought about it, for he must have been obviously agitated when he rejoined her, but she was giggly, boozed up, all over him.

He remembered waking up next to her in the morning with horror in his heart, and how, after dressing, he’d been irresistibly drawn to the bedroom window, which had a view across the road of steel barriers at the top of the steps, the tangled wilderness beyond.

‘Sneaking out before I can get your number?’ she drawled from the bed, and he thought, If only that were my biggest problem.

Since she asked, he had assumed it was a one-night thing, but, well, she’d insisted on pursuing him and eventually he’d thought, Let her have me if it means that much to her. (He didn’t say that in his wedding speech, of course, which had been barely a speech, in keeping with the discreet mood of the occasion; he’d kept the whole photos thing to a minimum, too.)

‘Let’s have a look,’ he said, returning to the present, and she passed him her phone, a WhatsApp thread named ‘Trailblazers’ growing in front of his eyes. Christ, how he’d preferred life before you were subjected to these streams of other people’s consciousness; he had enough on his plate wrangling his own.

Go, Team Persistence!

Full steam ahead now – pun totally intended!

Philip says the builders can start the week after next!

The week after next? Fuck.

‘Apparently a journalist from the South London News has already been in touch,’ Beth said, taking back the phone. ‘Did you read that bit?’

‘No. What for?’

‘To report on our triumph, of course. They’ll want to follow the progress of the project, you know, document the journey.’ She pulled a face. ‘I know, don’t say it, you hate that word. Everything’s a journey now, even putting out the bins.’

Alex just sipped his coffee, unable to smile at his own line.

‘It’s not like we don’t have a juicy back story, though, is it? Dulcie’s told them they should talk to Cordelia on Pleasance Road – she was here when it all happened and had a lot of contact with the police. Apparently, it was right behind her garden where the body was found.’

The coffee turned sour in his mouth. Juicy back story… when it all happened… All this time there’d been barely a murmur and now, suddenly, here it was at full tilt, sirens wailing. Who the fuck was Cordelia when she was at home? Surely she couldn’t be the old biddy they’d met that time, the one in the gardening gloves? Well, not really an old biddy, back then she’d probably only been about fifty, but to men in their twenties she’d seemed ancient. She’d be in her seventies now and he was pretty sure that in all these years of being dragged by Beth for Aperol Spritzes in neighbours’ gardens he’d never run into her. But what did that mean? He’d been lucky, that was all, and luck had a habit of running out.

‘What body?’ he said, and Beth looked at him in disbelief.

‘I told you, don’t you remember? A woman was killed on Exmoor Gardens, back in the Nineties. She lived at number fifty-four, where Tim and Frankie are? The couple with three young boys, all blond and feral, like snow wolves.’ She paused, as he’d noticed she often did when speaking of large families, as if it were necessary to mark the injustice of their postcode’s fertility lottery. How did that couple get three when they weren’t allowed even one? ‘Google it. The murder, I mean, not Tim and Frankie.’

‘I will,’ he agreed, as if he hadn’t a hundred times already. There was nothing to find, of that he was confident, not even on Wikipedia. To read reports of a local crime story that pre-dated the online news era, you had to go to the British Library and look at microfiche of the original newspaper pages. Would Beth’s reporter bother doing that?

Hopefully they’d be too young to even know what microfiche was.

Beth picked up the cafetière and drained the last inch of slurry into their cups. ‘Anyway, by the time I bought this place in ninety-nine it had all died down, otherwise I’d have made sure I got some money knocked off the asking price.’

‘Then why let a journalist stir it all up again now if there’s a risk of it affecting house prices?’

‘Oh, if anything, this will help. A cool new nature trail? Prices will go up.’ A flicker of irritation crossed her face. ‘Honestly, Alex, you’re being very weird about this. You’re not interested in the trail, you’ve made that clear from the start, but there’s no need to put a dampener on it for the rest of us.’

‘Sorry.’ She was right, his attitude was weird, even for him, and it jolted him that she’d noticed early on. He thought he’d been more careful than that. ‘I’m just, I don’t know, a bit cynical about the whole eco-community thing.’

‘You, cynical? Surely not.’ There was more than a trace of indulgence in her tone and he grinned roguishly at her, finally finding the right mode, the one he’d perfected, the one she was used to.

I could tell her now, he thought. It might be his last opportunity to reveal his connection. What was that line from the police caution? It may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court…

But, God, it was far too late for that, wasn’t it? She’d only want to know why he hadn’t said anything before.

Why he’d chosen this entire time to hide in plain sight.

About The Author

(c) Neil Spence

Louise Candlish is the internationally bestselling author of fifteen novels, including The Other Passenger, The Heights, and Our House, which won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards. It is now a major four-part TV drama starring Martin Compston, Tuppence Middleton, and Rupert Penry-Jones, available to stream on CBC Gem. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter. Connect with her on Twitter @Louise_Candlish, Facebook @LouiseCandlishAuthor, and Instagram @LouiseCandlish.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 18, 2023)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668022238

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Raves and Reviews

“The best Louise Candlish novel yet.”
LISA JEWELL, New York Times bestselling author of The Family Remains

“I loved The Only Suspect: a heady dose of mid-’90s nostalgia, with trademark whiplash twists and satire. Louise Candlish has surpassed her own, always-high standards. Quite possibly her best yet.”
SARAH VAUGHAN, internationally bestselling author of Reputation and Anatomy of a Scandal

“I couldn't put it down.”
SHARI LAPENA, internationally bestselling author of Everyone Here Is Lying and Not a Happy Family

The Only Suspect kept me guessing all the way through. It’s the book version of a Rubik’s Cube with so many unexpected twists and turns. An adrenaline-burner for sure!”
LIZ NUGENT, internationally bestselling author of Strange Sally Diamond

“I was sucked in from the beginning, hooked and hoodwinked. A masterclass in psychological thriller writing.”
DIANE JEFFREY, USA Today bestselling author of The Couple at Causeway Cottage

“An incredible page-turner . . . An absolute must-read. Get this on your 2023 wish list.”
B.A. PARIS, New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author of The Prisoner

“Completely addictive and devilishly clever—the queen of the killer twist strikes again!”
T.M. LOGAN, #1 bestselling author of The Curfew and The Holiday

“I absolutely adored The Only Suspect. Tightly plotted and brilliantly written with twists so perfect they made me gasp out loud on more than one occasion. The story was so tense I couldn’t stop turning the pages, desperate to know the outcome. My favourite Louise Candlish book so far. Highly recommended.”
CLAIRE DOUGLAS, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Girls Who Disappeared

“A nerve-shredding plot that kept me guessing to the finish. Another triumph!”
FIONA BARTON, New York Times bestselling author of Local Gone Missing

“A heady pleasure from the very first page. It’s both a page-tearing mystery and a pitch-perfect ’90s period piece. Shimmers with mystery, tension, and dirty glamour.”
ABIGAIL DEAN, Sunday Times bestselling author of Girl A

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