In this seventh novel in Michael Robotham’s Luiz/O’Loughlin series the sense of unease and anticipation builds from the opening lines. Marnie Logan, young, married, with two children, is struggling to survive since her husband Daniel simply vanished a couple of years earlier and it quickly becomes obvious that there's a lurking presence in her life that has been there for a long time:
Marnie Logan often feels like she's being watched. Nothing she can quite put her finger on – a whisper of breath on the back of her neck, or a shadow in the corner of her eye – and now her life is frozen.
It becomes increasingly hard to tell if the lurking presence is a portent of worse to come, something to do with her missing husband, or something more internal. Marnie’s struggling to cope with the legal and financial mess that Daniel’s disappearance has left her in, the personal consequences of his debts and the illness of her young son. Forced into prostitution by the gangster her husband owed a lot of money to, she is depressed, confused and grieving when she turns to her neighbour O'Loughlin for help.
Sympathy, however, quickly turns to confusion and even mistrust as the discovery of an incomplete journal being prepared by her missing husband as a birthday present reveals a different side to Marnie Logan. It seems that this broken and grief-stricken woman was in the past feared, disliked, cursed and avoided: a woman known for sending the message ‘Payback is a bitch!’ to the people that she's got even with.
‘It wasn't my weed. Someone put if there. A few weeks later I got a card through the post. Four words.“Payback is a bitch!”’ … Eugene glances past Joe.
‘A month or so later, Debbie got a card through the mail. Same message: “Payback is a bitch!”’
... ‘It arrived about a month after I started my sentence. No name, no return address, postmarked from London. It said “Payback is a bitch!”’ Mosley rubs at his bloodshot eyes.
Logan is confused, but O'Loughlin is worried and he turns to Vincent Ruiz for his help. Not before time, as the violent and nasty stand-over man who delivers Marnie to prostitution appointments is found dead and she is a suspect. As Ruiz starts to dig deeper, there are other sinister revealtions and things start to look very damning for the woman who started out a victim.
This author has got a way of ramping up the suspense very quickly and keeping you on the edge of your seat until the final page. His voices are authentic, the twists and turns elegantly presented, and his ongoing cast of characters engaging and involving. Some readers may connect more with O'Loughlin than Ruiz, or vice versa, and for both camps, WATCHING YOU is equally interesting. There's a particularly nice touch in the way O'Loughlin struggles with his relationship with his teenage daughter, in particular, to say nothing of his ex-wife; yet multi-divorced Ruiz is the voice of reason when it comes to women, and a strong support figure for the teenaged Charlie in particular.
As the series has progressed, so has the relationship between O'Loughlin and Ruiz. There's a real sense of shared history and friendship now between the two of them, and something beautifully pared down and supportive about their interactions. The relationship allows for glimpses of humour, or trust and normality in a storyline that's anything but humorous, trusting or normal.
It seems the idea for the novel came from a real-life scenario, which is particularly interesting as the way the story plays out in WATCHING YOU is very realistic and even more disquieting as a result. But there are other messages woven delicately into the threads of this narrative. Obsession is a powerful emotion and somebody in its grip can be powerless to break away. And the consequences of obsession can be devastating for anybody unlucky enough to get caught in the vortex, to say nothing of those directly impacted.