'Disclaimer' Review: Suspense Novel Lives Up To Premise

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“Disclaimer”

By Renee Knight (Harper)

The marvel of the new suspense novel “Disclaimer” is that it just about lives up to its unusually gripping premise.

Catherine Ravenscroft, an award-winning documentary maker, picks up a novel from her bedside table and soon is holed up in her bathroom achingly sick. What she is reading is the story of her life.

Or, rather, a particular chapter from her life, a deeply shameful event that took place 20 years before.

There it is, on the page, that vacation in Spain when after her husband, Richard, left early for work reasons she was alone with their 5-year-old son, Nicholas, and the boy almost died. She never told her husband what happened.

She couldn’t bear to.

“Disclaimer,” by Renee Knight

“Disclaimer,” by Renee Knight

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“Disclaimer” forms a trinity alongside “Gone Girl” and the “The Girl on the Train” as the best of domestic noir. That this is a first novel from Renee Knight, a British television screenwriter, makes her sure hand with what’s sinister that much more stunning.

Certainly it seems Catherine has recovered brilliantly. She and her husband, who holds a high-level government position, have enjoyed rising careers and the fruits of the same. They have only just moved into a lovely maisonette, downsizing now that their son has finally left home.

It’s true that Nicholas has presented something of a problem. In adolescence he turned bad and his drug addiction left scars. He’s only just gotten a job selling appliances in a department store. One customer describes him as leaden and flat-footed in affect.

That customer is in fact the novel’s author, a private school teacher named Stephen Brigstocke who was forced to retire early after betraying his vicious nature to his students. Actually Stephen found the novel in his late wife’s desk and passed it off as his own. But he did give it an apt title, “A Perfect Stranger.”

“Disclaimer” is told in chapters that alternate mostly between Catherine and the creepy septuagenarian as he spreads menace throughout her life, seeding copies of the novel with her son, her husband and her colleagues. After reading it, even those closest to her see just desserts in the depiction of her fictional death, mangled under a train, her head crushed.

As the novel concludes, “Such a pity she hadn’t realized that doing nothing would be such a deadly omission.”

Kevin Kwan is also the author of “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Kevin Kwan is also the author of “Crazy Rich Asians.”

(Giancarlo Ciampini)

At first, Catherine is purely prey, determined still not to reveal what happened on that long ago vacation. She never found it easy to bond with her son, but kept her secret for his sake. Or so, she tells herself.

But as Stephen escalates his campaign of terror and her secret becomes an opened book to all, she has little left to lose and the stalked becomes the stalker.

Some won’t be satisfied by the end of “Disclaimer.” Endings seem to be a particularly risky business in the domestic noir genre. The outcry at the outcome of “Gone Girls” reached upper decibel levels while even “The Girl on the Train” disappointed some by its final page.

Still, Knight makes her choice and it’s a strong one. “Disclaimer” will be climbing the best-seller list.

***

“China Rich Girlfriend”

“China Rich Girlfriend,” by Kevin Kwan

“China Rich Girlfriend,” by Kevin Kwan

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By Kevin Kwan (Doubleday)

Last year Kevin Kwan introduced summer fun readers to a cast of characters entirely foreign but somehow familiar. “Crazy Rich Asians” told an over-the-top story of old money Singapore, a class that spends enormous discretionary income discreetly, versus new money dedicated to wild and lavish displays of incredible wealth.

In “China Rich Girlfriend,” he continues that story but throws into the mix the recently acquired fortunes of China that take to easy street like it’s a superhighway. We’re introduced to Colette, whose every move generates headlines and not only because she’s the daughter of one of the five richest men on the mainland.

She’s an outré fashion blogger with an enormous following who’s fallen in love with a relative poor boy. It’s true that Carlton comes from the kind of family money that an entire room in their luxury condo is stacked deep with his mother’s vast collection of Hermes bags. But it seems even colossal fortunes are relative.

Their seemingly doomed love story — her father wants her to marry Richie, who’s also quite rich — plays out in a web of storylines that carry forward from the first novel. Kitty Pong, the porn star who snared the scion of one of Singapore’s finest families, is trying to break into old society. She’s entirely unwelcome until she hires a fixer to school her.

Astrid Leong, that sylph of style whose family forms the pinnacle of that society, struggles on with Michael, the man from low beginnings who is too entirely on the make. Meanwhile Rachel, the ABC (American-Born Chinese) engaged to Nick, one of Singapore’s most desirable bachelors, finally finds out who her father is.

It’s giving nothing away to reveal that Nick’s mother dramatically descends from a helicopter on their wedding day to inform Rachel, who she views as an upstart, that her dad is in fact Carlton’s father. The upstart now has familial connections to major money.

True, the stories told are as old as the day a Judith Krantz honey-hued heroine first strode free from the trailer park to stumble into the embrace of old-money society. But they also offer a taste of Asian opulence served with skewering humor. Delectable wretched excess.

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Source : http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/theater-arts/disclaimer-review-suspense-lives-premise-article-1.2242983

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