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Book review: <i>Somebody I Used To Know</i> by David Bell

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the cover of the book

Nick is a man who has never managed to properly escape from his college years, and the spectre of his first and only true love. When he encounters what seems like an impossible blast from his past, he's set on a path that might end in disappointment – or revelation. But has in unwittingly put himself in danger, or has his past placed him there?

The story

Nick Hansen is walking through the supermarket minding his own business when he sees the impossible: a girl who is the spitting image of his college girlfriend Marissa. While he has aged twenty years, she doesn't seem to have – but Marissa was killed in a house fire just two days after breaking up with him, and Nick is worried he's seeing a ghost. Approaching the girl, she drops everything and runs, leaving Nick reeling with confusion.

The next day, Nick is woken by the police. Detective Reece, who's had dealings with Nick before over custody issues with his ex-wife Gina and step-son Andrew, comes looking for him – the girl he saw in the grocery store yesterday has been murdered, and she had his name on a note in her pocket when she died. Detective Reece is sure Nick knows more than he's letting on, but Nick is utterly confused – he may have spent most of his adulthood obsessed with his past, but he certainly didn't expect the past to come looking for him, particularly when he was sure it was dead and buried with no hope of return.

Nick knows that he needs to clear his own name, or at least figure out what could possibly be happening. For this, he enlists the help of his old on-again-off-again flame Heather, and his most together friend Laurel, both of whom bring different points of view to his dilemma, and both of whom hate each other. As Nick's investigation continues and broadens, he realises somebody is trying to protect a very old secret – and somebody else is trying to make them pay for keeping it. Nick's stuck in the middle, but when somebody tries to abduct his step-son, Andrew, Nick realises it's up to him to get this resolved, before somebody else gets hurt.

The style

Somebody I Used To Know is a great read. It's well written, breezy, and suspenseful. It's the kind of story you look forward to picking up during designated reading times and you don't stop halfway through the train journey and start staring out the window instead. Entirely narrated from the point of view of Nick, his character is just the right combination of reflexivity and action, and there's a feeling of solidarity between the reader and Nick as we work out the mystery together. He's sympathetic and likeable, and there's certainly no struggle as to who's side we're on as we read. While the plot seems to pan out as one of several relatively likely scenarios, it's still a pleasure to read, particularly watching Nick bring it all together.

The characters are all well written and realistic, with their idiosyncrasies and uniqueness well documented by Nick. His friends Laurel and Heather, the detective, and his ex-wife are all well perspectived (obviously from Nick's point of view). The narrative is just right, a great balance between objective plot and human nature. It's textbook good thrilling.

Who is this book for?

If you like a bit of a thriller, and you're looking for something easy to read, this is one of the good ones.

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Somebody I Used To Know reminded me a bit of Harlan Corben's The Stranger, which I also enjoyed for the same reasons. David Bell has also written a couple of other novels which received favourable reviews.


In short

Title: Somebody I Used To Know
Author: David Bell
Publisher: New American Library - Penguin
ISBN: 978-0451474209
Year published: 2015
Pages: 432
Genre(s): Thriller
Review Type: