Catriona McPherson – “The Day She Died”

the day she diedThe Day She Died is slow-burn creepy. Jessie Constable is three-dimensional and one of a kind.

She is both cheery and easily troubled, confident and easily thrown. She’s alert and analytical when time calls and equally willing to trust and go-along. To help.

Catriona McPherson infuses Jessie Constable with a unique point of view—the attitudes and feelings of a woman who suffers from Pteronophobia, a.k.a. fear of feathers. (Yes, it’s a real thing.)

Jessie lives it. We soon have her radar for the triggers. We’re soon on alert for where feathers or feather-like things might pose trouble. A walk on a beach? You never know. We soon learn that “none of the worst stuff is ever in the kitchen.”

A new house would certainly be a concern and when Jessie is suddenly thrust into the life of a man whose wife has disappeared, her world opens up to new horizons. And new kinds of darkness. When Jessie’s wife turns up dead (in a car wreck), Jessie has also sorts of reasons to give Gus King the benefit of the doubt. It certainly looks like an accident. Or suicide. But for this and but for that. Little things. Yes, you’ll find yourself saying, just go home Jessie and leave well enough alone.

All of Jessie’s senses seem to fire all the time. She’s thoroughly alive, reading every scene and moment. She’s good with details—a trait that will come in handy. McPherson’s deft touch, chock full of Scottish quips and idioms, makes the moments crackle on the page. “I sat down too then, right down on a stranger’s bed, and I could feel the stale close air of a stranger’s bedroom pressing in, the private smell of sleep and worn clothes.”

Jessie’s phobia has roots in a childhood incident and it’s not one she wants to discuss in depth. To trust Gus, she has to get over her belief that “guys are just guys” who “hate making mistakes.”

The story puts Jessie smack in the lives of Gus’ two children who cope with the loss of their mother and then learn about Jessie’s unusual fears. The kids bring out Jessie’s inner child (though it’s really never very far away). McPherson’s touch is nearly magical as we watch Jessie shape-shift from fill-in mom to shaky new girlfriend. Jessie goes further and further down the rabbit hole. She turns from outsider to insider to detective to prosecutor.

The clues are delicious. McPherson’s story never sags. There’s energy on every page; no hand-holding allowed. Jessie might be a bit too easy when it comes to falling for Gus, but she’s razor sharp if given the time to think things through. To survive, she has to confront the foundation of her own fears and burrow down below the surface (literally) where the dark secrets are kept—even the ones she keeps from herself. Jessie has breathing mantras to calm herself. As the creeping dread mounts, you might need your own.


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