Something as ordinary as the daily commute to work takes on escalating levels of threat in this smart suspense novel by bestselling U.K.-based writer Louise Candlish.

Something as ordinary as the daily commute to work takes on escalating levels of threat in this smart suspense novel by bestselling U.K.-based writer Louise Candlish.

The prolific Candlish (Those People, Our House, The Swimming Pool) often deals with betrayals, frauds, murders and mysterious disappearances, and she’s particularly insightful when it comes to connecting these extreme, unexpected events to the rather more commonplace emotion of envy. (She dedicates The Other Passenger to "everyone who has ever been tempted to compare up…")

In particular, in works set in the ruinously expensive city of London, her plots are often propelled by the characters’ feelings around real estate, placing them in a genre now dubbed "the property-porn thriller."

In The Other Passenger — Candlish’s 14th book — a four-storey Georgian townhouse with a stone staircase, curving banisters, hand-cast ceiling roses and a private garden square becomes a flashpoint for intergenerational resentment.

Jamie and Kit are both daily passengers on the river bus system that travels along the Thames. Jamie is a gen Xer fretting a bit about the encroachments of middle age. He once had a high-flying marketing job, but — for reasons not initially explained — he’s now working as a minimum-wage barista. His partner, Clare, who runs a successful estate agency, keeps them financially afloat.

The stunning house they share is worth around £2.3 million, a crucial fact left politely unspoken by all the characters.

Kit, a millennial, is a charismatic would-be actor reluctantly plugging away at an insurance firm. His partner, Melia, works for Clare’s company. They live in a cramped rental flat and are drowning in debt.

The already complicated connections between the two couples become even more tangled when Kit goes missing after a holiday drinking binge on the river commute. Jamie denies all knowledge, but how to explain the last text he sent to Kit — "Just YOU wait" — and its seemingly ominous tone?

Jamie’s first-person narration is sometimes funny and often frank, but he also seems to be dodging some key facts. "These days, the truth comes in inverted commas, as owned and defined by the listener as by the speaker," he explains, by way of rationalization.

Joohnny Ring photo</p><p>Louise Candlish’s latest has plenty to say about money, marriage, power and property, and her descriptions of London are evocative.</p>

Joohnny Ring photo

Louise Candlish’s latest has plenty to say about money, marriage, power and property, and her descriptions of London are evocative.

As Jamie looks back at the weeks leading up to Kit’s disappearance, we see some growing frictions. The intergenerational conflict is initially jokey, with the four characters playing around with the clichés of Kit and Melia as feckless snowflakes and Jamie and Clare as smug and out-of-touch.

Clare and Jamie’s house was snapped up by Clare’s wealthy parents in the early 1980s, at a bargain price that seems like a distant dream to Kit and Melia, who despair of ever "getting on the property ladder," as the Brits say.

And while the younger pair envies the older couple’s wealth, Jamie and Clare seem smitten with Kit and Melia’s youth and beauty, qualities that take on an erotic charge because they can’t be bought. (He "smells so millennial," Clare says of Kit. "Like an artisan loaf baked with walnuts and figs," according to Jamie.)

Nothing is what it seems, however, in this noirish novel, not even the demographic stereotypes.

Candlish’s writing is precise and vivid. Her evocations of London are especially evocative, as when Jamie describes the many moods of the city and the river: "The water is high as we sail towards Waterloo, sucking at the walls with its grimy brown gums, and the waterside wonderland of lights that glows so magically after dark is exposed for the fraudulent web of cables that it is."

Candlish also understands pacing. She expertly handles information, sometimes doling it out, sometimes withholding it, without falling into the unbearable coyness that sometimes bedevils the thriller genre. The well-constructed plot is lightened with some snarky observational humour and swept along on a delicious undercurrent of schadenfreude.

The Other Passenger has interesting things to say about money, marriage, power and property, while also letting us indulge our fascination with other people’s houses — and the prices of other people’s houses. It’s no surprise that this highly readable novel has already been optioned for a movie.

When reading about multimillion-dollar London townhouses, Free Press pop culture writer Alison Gillmor makes sure to be grateful for what she has.

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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