This Little Dark Place by AS Hatch

This dark psychological thriller begins as Daniel, the narrator, writes letters to a mysterious woman called Lucy. Daniel, we know, is now alone. Previously, he lived with Victoria, but their relationship soured as they withdrew from one another after unsuccessfully trying to conceive and Victoria begins an affair. Daniel then finds himself living alone in a remote, badly run-down cottage left to him by his mother, and on a whim he joins a prison penpals scheme and starts to converse with Ruby, a young woman jailed for a violent attack on her abusive partner. Their correspondence gradually intensifies and, and suddenly, Daniel starts to realise that it's all too much. He cuts off contact with Ruby - and she's not happy about it. So what will happen when Ruby suddenly turns up on the doorstep?

This is an oppressive, claustrophobic story in which nobody really says what they're thinking and everyone seems to be constantly walking on eggshells. Daniel somehow manages to be both passive and over-intense at the same time, in a way that I found quite unnerving, and there's a strong sense that the chaotic Ruby might not be quite what she seems.

The title of This Little Dark Place could refer to the dingy home that Daniel has made his own, but frankly it could also refer to the inside of Daniel's head, because spending time with Daniel is certainly not a barrel of laughs. He's both repressed and depressed and, for most of the book, he's infuriatingly inactive. He watches Victoria drift away from him and says nothing, and his way of dealing with Ruby's anger when he ends their epistolary relationship is simply to ignore her letters. There are hints at what has made Daniel the person he is - a difficult childhood, a violent stepfather - but I still struggled to sympathise with him, which lessened the impact of certain key events.

AS Hatch does a great job of building atmosphere, and yet somehow I found this book more stressful than gripping. It's so relentless in its rundown gloom and the choices made by every single character are so glaringly poor and self-destructive that I was quite relieved to get to the end. It's not that This Little Dark Place is a bad book and I'm sure many readers would find it a compelling, twisty tale of obsession, but this one just wasn't for me.