Book review: A Trick of the Mind by Penny Hancock

Complex psychological thrillers don’t come much better than A Trick of the Mind, the work of an author who weaves her own brand of literary magic.

Monday, 6th October 2014, 10:00 am
A Trick of the Mind by Penny Hancock
A Trick of the Mind by Penny Hancock

Following in the wake of her two opening novels Tideline and The Darkening Hour, Penny Hancock is becoming a mesmerising mistress of menace with her clever, compelling stories which plumb the dark corners of the human psyche.

Like its predecessors, A Trick of the Mind uses water – in this case, the sea – as its central motif for a tension-packed tale of a young woman trapped between disturbing events in the present and painful secrets from the past.

Using the contrasting backdrops of isolated, rural Suffolk and claustrophobic, crowded London, Hancock creates an atmospheric and chilling page-turner with an electrifying climax.

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Ellie Stanley is in her late twenties and senses that she is at a crossroads in her life. She has been dating Finn since her college days but is eager to be free of a relationship that has been holding her back for years.

So now she’s on the road to a new life… literally. She is driving to the beach cottage in Southwold, Suffolk, which she recently inherited from her Aunty May, for a weekend shared with old friends.

Ellie is a teacher in London but like her late aunt, she is also a gifted artist and now her work is to be shown in an upmarket gallery in Southwold, offering her the chance to find success at last.

Only miles from the cottage, she feels her car briefly jolt and veer sideways on a country lane and then bump against something on the road. In the mirror she sees only a bare tree branch sliced off in a recent storm.

Determined not to let her obsessive compulsive disorder problem force her into an unnecessary U-turn, Ellie continues her journey but that evening she hears a worrying news flash on the radio.

A man has been critically injured in a hit-and-run on the same road that evening. Could the thump she heard on her car have been the cause of a terrible accident?

Overcome with guilt and desperately needing to reassure herself that the victim is recovering, Ellie decides to visit the man in hospital.

But even as she drives there, she is overcome by a foreboding that what she is doing will take her away from everything that is precious to her, and that she will never get back…

Hancock’s masterful thriller is packed with luscious landscapes and layers of mystery… why is Ellie racked with superstitions and anxieties that seem to have no obvious focus, what are the hidden secrets in Aunty May’s memory-filled home and shadowy past, and is Ellie the perpetrator of a crime or the victim of one?

As the intertwining lives of a cast of flawed characters slowly unravel, the suspense and drama reach a stunning conclusion.

Not to be missed…

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £12.99)