I Invited Her In
The tag line for I Invited Her In is, “Imagine the worst thing a friend could ever do. This is worse.” A tale of a reunion between university pals gone horribly wrong, it’s a nice reminder that sometimes when we drift apart from people, it’s for good reason.
They had been best of friends. Till they weren’t. One big thing separated Mel (Melanie)Harrison and Abi (Abigail) Curtiz but it wasn’t a bad thing. Not really. There was no falling out. Mel had gotten pregnant by a one-night stand and had to drop her university courses to become a full-time mom. Abi had stayed in school, married well, moved to America and been a wonderful success. They’re Facebook friends but Mel never really posts anything on-line and Abi is a TV personality whose page is more about her public life than her private one. Mel is certain Abi pretty much accepts all friend requests and doesn’t really remember her and the fun times they had at uni.
Then she gets the email; the first direct contact they’ve had in seventeen years. Abi is getting a divorce from her cheating scoundrel of a husband and is taking a trip to London to get away from it all. She assumes Mel is still a single mom, living in the city but Mel has married, had two additional children and no longer lives in town. She invites Abi to her home instead of meeting for the proffered lunch. It’s an open-ended invitation although Mel is assuming that Abi will leave after the weekend. Those first days are fun and exhilarating as Mel is reminded of what it was to be young and carefree, and spend all her time with a gal pal. But then Abi stays on, for weeks, and Mel struggles to keep her family life on track. Her handsome husband Ben is growing short on patience, especially with regards to the gossipy late-night wine sessions Mel and Abi have and the fast food he and the kids are eating while Mel and Abi dine out. Mel knows she needs to send Abi away, that she needs to get back to her old life, but she is certain the situation will resolve itself with time and continued kindness. She’s right. Abi does have a resolution to the situation in mind, but it is one that Mel is definitely not planning on.
While the reader knows from the beginning, thanks to the information on the cover, that this will be a suspense novel, the start of the tale is actually quite jovial and cheerful. Abi and Mel really do compliment each other’s personalities and it’s easy to see why they were such good friends. Mel is a kind person who doesn’t mind being outshone, and she enjoys Abi’s larger than life persona, her joie de vivre and glamour. It would be easy to paint Abi as simply an attention hogging witch who needs a plainer friend as a foil, but the author wisely avoids that trope. Abi is selfish and entitled but she is also fun and invigorating. Mel’s life is richer for having Abi in it.
But as the book goes on, the façades start to wear away. Mel’s kindness also hides an almost unforgivable cluelessness; she takes action with no thought to consequences for herself and others. She does what she feels is the right thing and that can often mean something that doesn’t stand up to the cold light of reason. Mel has a secret throughout the story, something that is technically not that big a deal, but the way Mel has handled it turns the ordinary into the outrageous. I felt this was excellent writing since it was this wonderfully subtle thread connecting the Mel of her college years to adult Mel, and it was this small thing that just rubbed off the veneer and was so wonderfully telling.
Abi’s exterior is, from the beginning, far more superficial. We know she is all glitz and glamour, hiding something dark and perhaps even dangerous beneath the surface. She is a fun, emboldening, enlivening presence in the household but in no way helpful. She pays for nothing and does nothing but party, which in turn creates trouble. It’s not a surprise, really, to find she had an ulterior motive for the visit. Here again, the author does excellent work of uniting the past and present, tying the current nasty behavior back to an obsession Abi had in college so perfectly, so frighteningly that it is eerie.
Part of why we have such keen insights into the characters is that the tale is told from multiple perspectives. We get the inside scoop, so to speak, on what many of them – Mel, Ben, Abi – are thinking so that we understand in detail what each character believes about themselves and the other characters.
The book does have a few flaws, one being that a great deal of the story hinges on a relationship that I found more fantasy than reality. I can’t go into depth because that pairing is crucial to the suspense, but I will say that I found the idea that a genuine attraction would exist between the characters rather unbelievable. I also felt that one of them was written as almost perfect, so that it felt implausible they would have the vulnerability to make the foolish decisions they made under the influence of the other. Additionally, the ending was a bit too sunny for the way the tale had developed. I also guessed Mel’s big secret right away. These things are small, and most don’t happen till the end, so their impact is minimal; it’s enough to be felt, not enough to overtly detract from a stellar story.
I Invited Her In is an excellent psychological thriller which will be a delight for readers of domestic dramas. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of that genre.