Thrillers and mysteries keep us interested, and are popular for a reason. After all, a good hook can get someone reading well into the night, ignoring both their bedtime and the misery that will come from the resulting lack of sleep during the following day. This is why some of 2018’s more popular novels have come from the thriller and mystery genres, with CJ Tudor’s The Chalk Man being an example of one of the year’s more talked about and well read books. Granted, that one unfortunately didn’t live up to the hype in this reviewer’s opinion.
Of course, this is also the year of Sharp Objects‘ television debut, sparking great interest (both new and returning) in the work of Gillian Flynn. This is another example of the prevalence and popularity of the genre and its close neighbours.
Earlier this month, I was asked to review another mysterious thriller, that being The Stranger Upstairs by Melanie Raabe. A nearly three hundred and fifty page novel that was originally written in German, but has since been translated into English and published into print by House of Anansi Press. Said translation was handled by writer Imogen Taylor.
Set in an affluent part of one of Germany’s largest cities, The Stranger Upstairs centres upon a 37 year-old single mother named Sarah, and is set in 2015. It’s during that particular year where the woman’s newly salvaged life falls apart once again, after she learns of her husband’s impending return. Why is this such a big trigger? Well, it just so happens that said wealthy, business owning man disappeared while on a business trip to South America, and hadn’t been seen or heard from in seven years. He left for a meeting, then simply vanished before arriving at the opulent hotel at which he was expected, leaving a confused and grief stricken wife at home in Germany. She and their approximately one year-old son.
Now, you would think that this would be a joyous occasion. After all, who wouldn’t want to see their beloved husband again, and be able to know that he’s alive after being presumed dead? That isn’t exactly the case in this novel, however, because when Sarah goes to the airport to welcome her lost love back, she’s met with somebody who doesn’t quite look like the real deal. An impostor, who quickly threatens her and leaves her puzzled as to what his motivations may be.
Things quickly escalate, because despite causing a scene at the airport and attempting to phone those with opportunities to help, Sarah ends up back at home with this stranger and doesn’t know what to do. The man is eerily calm, but she senses something dangerous hiding underneath that strange exterior, and doesn’t want to be anywhere close to him. Nor does she want to spend a night in the house with him, let alone a period of hours.
The majority of this story is told from Sarah’s point of view, as she attempts to deal with what has happened. Her goal is to get help with removing this impostor from her home, and her secondary plan is to figure out what he’s up to. This involves sleuthing, following and attempting to stay one step ahead of the man with whom she now shares her home.
Meanwhile, certain chapters (most of which are even shorter than Sarah’s, and those never reach great lengths) are told from the stranger’s perspective. Through them, we get the sense of a calculated man who’s got a goal in mind. What, exactly, that is remains to be discovered.
Saying much more would certainly spoil and potentially ruin the plot and story for others, so I’ll leave it at that. What I will say, however, is that The Stranger Upstairs does a decent job of making its reader feel unsettled, and kept me intrigued for the most part. Things didn’t wrap up in a memorable way, nor did the book ever completely grip me, but it kept me reading until the end and had me wondering what would happen.
This is not a great book by any means, but it is a decent read, especially for those who can’t get enough of thrillers. There’s enough here to keep your mind working, and to make you think about the plot when you’re away from it. Sarah’s story ends up being kind of predictable, however, and nothing about this plot really stands out as being wholly original or memorable. That, of course, is not to suggest that it’s bad. Just that it’s not as good as it could have been given its premise. More depth could’ve helped, and the same is maybe true of more memorable encounters between the two. Then again, this is a bit of a cerebral read, during which we’re mostly stuck in the head of a woman who feels trapped and at risk.
Sarah also isn’t the most likeable person, nor is she the easiest protagonist to relate to. She sometimes acts in silly ways, and doesn’t always do the smartest things as a result. Her story sometimes drags, too.
When it comes to the writing, there’s little to really complain about. Since The Stranger Upstairs was originally written in German, before being translated into my native tongue, I can’t properly evaluate Melanie Raabe’s writing directly. Her story is pretty well translated here, though, and I didn’t find issue with the way it was written in English. It flowed pretty well, had several good lines that stood out, and didn’t really have any major or notable issues. It was better than expected, albeit not award-winning stuff by any means.
Overall, Melanie Raabe’s The Stranger Upstairs is a relatively interesting and somewhat entertaining read that should keep you invested from start to finish. It’s not perfect, nor should it ever be considered a classic, but it’s a decent thriller. Something to curl up with at night, and get your mind working along to.
**This review is based on a retail copy of the book that we were provided with.**