‘The Heights’ I’ll Go to Review Louise Candlish’s Latest Thriller

He thinks he’s safe up there.

But can he ever be safe from you?

Ellen Saint, by pure chance, sees a man on top of The Heights, a fancy, exclusive apartment building in London. He’s subtly different, older now, but she’d recognise him anywhere. Which doesn’t make sense. Because he’s been dead for over two years. She knows this because she’s the one who had him killed.

The Heights by Louise Candlish is a 2021 psychological thriller about an unlikeable protagonist—aren’t they all?—called Ellen Saint who devolves into madness and hate after the death of her son Lucas Gordon at the hands of the aforementioned man at The Heights, Kieran Watts. Most of the story is told through the lens of Ellen, in excerpts of her book ‘Saint or Sinner’, but interspersed in the middle and at the end with third-person narrative of her ex-partner Vic Gordon, and in parts a review by Sunday Times Magazine journalist Michaela Ross.

To be honest, The Heights fucked me up. I grew attached to these characters, and loved the slow burn. I read it slowly, but I knew I would finish this book. Despite her dumb, literary surname (technically her husband Justin’s name; Ellen’s maiden name is Harding), Ellen is an intriguing protagonist. I know it was the author’s attention, but I both identified with Ellen and hated her. She suffers from a form of vertigo called High Place Phenomenon, and as such, has been terrified of heights her whole life, much to the annoyance of her ex Vic, who despite their ‘ex’ status, the two are hopelessly entangled in an unhealthy, toxic dynamic. I felt for Ellen and her disorder—which is just a fancy way for Ellen to pretend she doesn’t have intrusive thoughts/harm OCD—and for the most of the book, could understand her desire for justice against Kieran.

The case of Lucas’s death and, in particular, the public’s vitriolic response is similar to the James Bulger case of the UK in the ’90s and it’s an interesting discussion on mob justice and lenient prison sentencing, a topic I have much interest in. There are clearly defined sides; on one side for punishment is Ellen and Vic, the angry public, and the other side, the side for Kieran’s rehabilitation are his foster mother Prisca, and a growing case of characters who infuriate Ellen and push her further into the deep end.

I predicted a lot of the major plot twists, even the one at the end with the driver, but it didn’t stop me from throwing the book down when I finished the last few pages in stunned silence. That ending! Oh, fucking Vic! I read those hundred pages in like an hour, because this deep into the psychological thriller game, I know a reveal 50 pages from the end means nothing, and there’ll always be one massive reveal right at the end. The book also promised: The queen of the sucker-punch twist. And what happened with Kieran…well, let me say, you’ve just gotta read it for yourself! While I liked Ellen at the start, by the end, I’m like, go on Prisca, I know what the book is hinting, you gotta do what you gotta do. I see the literary themes: of how you go from liking Ellen and hating Kieran, and then whoopsie, the plot does a little reserveraroo and you don’t know what to think anymore. I know about literary themes and character development. That’s why I was a little annoyed by the constant references to Ellen’s fear of jumping and, while I know these sorts of thoughts are all-encompassing and that’s what the book is trying to portray, for the love of everything, the motifs are just trying to bash you over the head, eh!

While most of the book is a slow burn, and you could be mistaken for giving up, don’t give up! It’s worth the wait. It’s a good discussion, the whole thing, of the rehabilitation/punishment arguments, where nothing is really resolved, because this is not a neat cosy story where everything’s resolved, and despite the protestations of those around her, Ellen is incensed by hate and will do whatever she can to receive justice. And when she finally gets the truth and it’s not something she likes, the truth goes against her entire worldview and preconceived notions since Kieran Watts first entered her life…Ellen and Vic do not handle it the way you’d expect—or maybe you will expect it—but I think it was a horrifying, emotional conclusion at The Heights, even if the literary motifs and themes grated on me. Look, Ellen’s scared of heights! How literary would it be if the ending was to do with heights, Ellen’s story is all about height, and this damn book is called The Heights? Sigh. But it’s worth it in the end, and it’s refreshing to read a psychological thriller that left me feeling something more than “Meh” like the last bajillion I’ve read that tried and failed to emulate Gone Girl. I want books that will stay with me long after I’ve finished them, and I think Louise Candlish’s The Heights is well on its way. I’ll probably read more by this author.

Overall: 4/5

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