Reviewed by Clifford Jongko


By Emma Rous
384. Berkley.

An isolated English country estate. A family with a dark past. An innocuous discovery that sends the protagonist on a quest for the truth. It may sound like just about every gothic thriller ever published, but author Emma Rous keeps the beloved genre fresh and exciting, in her debut novel The Au Pair.

Past and Present Collide

The Au Pair is told through two protagonists: Seraphine Mayes, present-day heir to the Summerbourne estate, discovers a photograph taken on the day she and her twin brother were born. A photograph that seems innocent enough, yet has one glaring detail: why is her mother holding only one baby in it?

The titular au pair, Laura Silveira, tells her story between Seraphine’s chapters. Set in the early 1990s, Laura narrates the time she stayed with the Mayes family, leading to the circumstances surrounding the mysterious photograph. Past and present are alternately told, ultimately colliding as the secret is revealed in the book’s climax.

A Strong Debut

Author Emma Rous has certainly come up with a strong debut novel with The Au Pair, and has already drawn comparison to luminaries of the genre such as V.C. Andrews, Daphne du Maurier, and Agatha Christie. Gothic mystery is a difficult genre because often, a casual reader could deduce the mystery halfway through the book. One can use the same premise – in this case, an isolated family with a dangerous secret – but how the author builds the mystery can make all the difference. I admit I was skeptical when I received my advanced review copy. After all, with so many books and soap operas relying on the same old trope, how can this one avoid delivering its punchline way too early?

The Au Pair, on the other hand, is a well-structured gothic mystery. It balances the tension between mystery and soap opera elements very well. The use of intersecting timelines is particularly clever. It gives the reader a detailed back story while eliminating the over-narrating deus ex machina that bad mystery writers often use. The addition of a mysterious antagonist wasn’t as menacing, but didn’t steal the thunder, nor take away the impact of, the two timelines spiraling into a satisfying conclusion.

Your New Favorite Mystery Novel

My reviewer’s copy is prefaced by the book’s editor, saying that people who have read it “desperately need[ed] to talk about it.” At first I thought that was an exaggeration, but after reading it, I can see why The Au Pair is described as such. It’s the kind of story that you will want to read no matter what you’re doing: on a long flight, while doing your laundry, or during breaks at work. It’s the kind of book that you’ll want to lend to – nay, force on – your book-buddy right after you’re done with it.

Clifford is a content writer, musician, and comic book fan. He is also a connoisseur of bad puns. Follow his comic-centric podcast @thoseF_ingnerds on Twitter. Follow his personal Twitter and Instagram account @tapsilogic at your own risk.

[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]

Keep reading:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *