Richard and Judy Review I See You by Clare Mackintosh
“The person spying on her speaks to us, the reader, in italicised chapters. They are deeply creepy.”
Most of us have, during a train journey, speculated about our fellow passengers. We’ve watched them covertly, idly creating imaginary biographies and back stories. It passes the time, particularly on a boring, daily commute.
But has it ever occurred to you – even once – that perhaps it is we ourselves who are being minutely observed? And not with the innocent, idle curiosity that motivates our own secret scrutiny, but with psychotic, intense focus.
This is the premise of Clare Mackintosh’s cracking follow-up novel to her best-selling debut, I Let You Go. In I See You, we are introduced to Zoe Walker, a forty-year-old mother of teenage children who loathes her boss, loathes her daily train journey to and from work, and has absolutely no idea that she is being watched every step of the way.
The person spying on her speaks to us, the reader, in italicised chapters. They are deeply creepy.
‘I see you. But you don’t see me. You’re engrossed in your book; a paperback cover with a girl in a red dress. I can’t see the title but it doesn’t matter; they’re all the same. If it isn’t boy meets girl, it’s boy stalks girl. Boy kills girl. The irony isn’t lost on me… I take out my phone and swipe up to reveal the camera… if anyone noticed me now, they’d think I was uploading a record of my commute to Instagram, or Twitter.
A silent click, and you’re mine.’
See what I mean?
“If you’re a regular train commuter then after reading I See You, you can probably add another emotion to the existing ones (boredom, frustration, etc). Paranoia.”
Zoe’s descent into the nightmare begins the evening she’s flicking through the evening paper on her journey home and notices something familiar about the grainy photograph of a woman looking out at her from the classified ads for seedy escort services.
There’s no caption, just a website address – findtheone.com – and a premium-rate phone number. Intrigued and uneasy, Zoe shows the ad to her family when she gets home – but they say it’s definitely not her, just a lookalike, and not even a very good one. Her anxiety subsides.
Until the sinister events that swiftly unfold. Next day, Zoe sees the same ad, but with a picture of a different woman – a woman whose body is discovered shortly afterwards in north London. She has been strangled.
Zoe calls the police and Kelly Swift enters the story. Officer Swift has been demoted to a dreary job in traffic policing after a disciplinary kerfuffle – she walloped a child molester during an interview – and relishes the chance to get back into the serious game of tracking down a killer and stalker.
It’s quickly established that findtheone.com will – for an eye-watering fee – provide subscribers with minute details of specific women’s daily commute: the clothes they wear, the carriages and seats they prefer, the ticket machines they use. There’s a choice of personal rating, too – easy, moderate, difficult.
The website’s shadowy operator says they are merely ‘providing a helping hand to bring people together.’
If you’re a regular train commuter then after reading I See You, you can probably add another emotion to the existing ones (boredom, frustration, etc).
Your protagonist, Zoe, is tired, underpaid, works way too hard and looks after two demanding grown-up children. Why does she let her partner Simon get away with not even paying any rent?
Yes, Zoe works hard and it’s easy to assume that she is ‘put upon’, with her children and Simon all taking advantage of her, but that isn’t entirely the case. Rightly or wrongly, Zoe has made a very conscious decision to live her life this way. Her own young adult years didn’t play out the way she expected, and she wants more for Justin and Katie. She could ask them to pay rent, but she knows they’d then never be able to save for a place of their own. As for Simon, he has offered many times to pay rent, but Zoe won’t let him, and she explains why in the book. When she split with her husband Matt, she had to start from scratch and she never wants to find herself in that position again; even though she loves Simon and hopes their relationship is for keeps, she is astute enough to want to retain financial control of her house. So yes, perhaps Zoe does put her family first a little too much, but that is her choice, just as it is the choice of many single parents today.
The creepy world evoked by your plot – shady sex websites encouraging violence against random women – do they exist as you describe them?
Well, I hope they don’t exist exactly as I describe them, but there is certainly a dark underworld in this country and elsewhere, where women are trafficked, abused and treated like commodities. Often the victims of these organisations are marginalised women who exist on the sidelines of society. They have already been rendered invisible due to poverty, crime or abuse, which makes them not only more vulnerable to further abuse, but – horrifically – less important in the eyes of many people and agencies. The criminal world in I See You targets more ‘visible’ women, but the types of crimes aren’t new. Violence against women continues to be a huge problem, and for every ‘visible’ victim it’s important to remember all the ‘invisible’ ones, and to do what we can to help the charities who identify and help them.
Great follow-up to I Let You Go. Are you now firmly ensconced in the thriller world?
Thank you. I’m going to hang on in here till they kick me out! I love writing psychological thrillers and I hope they’re here to stay, albeit with the subtle changes that are inevitable as literary trends evolve. For me, the fascination in books is around human behaviour, and the way in which people react to stress. It’s often simply summed up as ‘ordinary people in extraordinary situations’ and that’s certainly true of the books I have written so far. That said, I have other stories I’d like to write, that don’t fit neatly into the psychological thriller bracket (I’d love to write police procedurals around I See You’s Kelly Swift, for example) so it’s possible that the future will see me switching genres, or writing with a foot in two camps.
There is a cliff-hanger ending which obviously we won’t spoil. But will we be hearing more about the character who got off scot-free and now possesses the murderous website?
At the moment I don’t have any plans to continue the story, although perhaps there’s a short story or novella in my future – who knows? I know that endings like this can be frustrating for some people, but this felt like the right way to finish I See You. Life isn’t a series of neatly tied-up episodes; it’s a messy, continuing story that often throws a curveball when we least expect it. From a police point of view, the crimes in I See You represent a mammoth undertaking. Hundreds of separate victims, separate crimes, separate offenders. Different boroughs, different investigative teams, different outcomes. Resources would be stretched to breaking point. Quite rightly, their focus in this book was on the webmaster – the spider at the centre of this horrific web of crime – and with a website shut down, the crime wave is technically finished. If they’d arrested a ‘straightforward’ serial killer, that would have been the end of it. But in I See You, things are a little murkier. Once you create a concept you can’t un-create it. It’s out there, and anyone could pick it up and run with it.
- Clare Mackintosh spent 12 years in the police force – how do you think the knowledge and experience she gained in this period influenced how she writes?
- What does I See You tell us about modern digital life?
- This thriller has been described as ‘un-putdownable’. Can you define what makes a book impossible to put down?
- Zoe is a very ordinary woman – do you think a central character in a thriller needs to be relatable to make the story work?
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