Monday, August 6, 2018

Book Review: Our House

By Jami Deise

As a real estate agent, I’m well aware of the fraud that has infested the industry. Almost every week, I hear stories of how some poor buyer wired their closing funds to an overseas bank, thanks to cyber-scammers who steal email passwords of agents and monitor them for news of closings. Our title company no longer gives wiring instructions over email, and our own email accounts are run by the brokerage and feature two-step authentication. All of this caution, however, presumes that the scammers are strangers. When the scammer is the person who is closest to you, there’s no type of authentication to counter that.

In Our House, the latest thriller by British author Louise Candlish, Fiona Lawson arrives unexpectedly to her multimillion-dollar home on Trinity Avenue to find its new owners moving in. Only problem is, she never sold her house. When she realizes her estranged husband Bram is missing—and there’s paperwork with his signature selling the house—the awful truth is unavoidable: Her own husband sold their home behind her back and swindled her out of the proceeds. But how? And why? And what will she do now?

The book unfolds on multiple fronts. Bram tells his side of the story in a Word document, describing everything that happened to him that led to his actions. Fiona gives her side in a podcast called “The Victim.” And the narrative describes what Fiona does when she finds two strangers in her home, preparing to move in.

Fiona is a naturally sympathetic protagonist, and the sympathy grows even deeper as she describes the events that led to the estrangement: Fiona caught Bram having sex with a neighbor in the playhouse in their backyard—and it wasn’t the first time he strayed. But because their boys are so important to her, and the house is so dear after all those renovations, Fiona and Bram agree to a nesting separation, in which they will rent out a small apartment and trade off time in it with time in the family home with the boys.

When Bram gives his side of the story, he comes off even worse. There are other secrets he’s kept from Fiona, and Bram justifies his actions like an immature teenager. The secrets build until Bram places himself in the situation that leads to selling the house behind his wife’s back. There’s a huge coincidence behind it that I had a little trouble swallowing, but it’s the only coincidence in the book, so I wasn’t too bothered by it.

Because of the way the story unfolds, much of the tension dissipates while Bram recounts everything that led to the sale, and at these points the novel feels less like a thriller and more like character-driven fiction. Candlish seems to be attempting to build sympathy for Bram as she reveals his back story, which includes a father who died at a young age and the circumstances behind his death. These explanations just led me to ruminate on the types of characters who, when finding themselves in a hole, keep digging. Bram had several opportunities to come clean, accept responsibility, and keep his sons in their childhood home, and he never owned up to his actions.

The podcast ends before the book does, and at that point, Candlish adds a few more twists, which heighten the tension again. And she ties up a loose thread that I didn’t even realize was left dangling. The ending is a masterpiece, as other characters refuse to learn from Bram’s mistakes, implying a domino effect that will eventually come down right on the children.

Reading the book as a real estate agent was especially enlightening. As I watched Bram take the steps necessary to defraud his wife and complete the sale, I kept wondering if there were any precautions in place to keep others from doing what he did.

Sadly, the answer is no.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Louise Candlish:

1 comment:

Dianna said...

This book surprised me very much! I felt like it dragged on a bit too long, but the story was so interesting and unique.