Title: The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
A hypnotic domestic noir novel in which a house swap becomes the eerie backdrop to a crumbling marriage, a torrid affair, and the fatal consequences that unfold
Be careful who you let in . . .
When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap–from their city apartment to a house in a leafy, upscale London suburb–they jump at the chance for a week away from home, their son, and the tensions that have pushed their marriage to the brink.
As the couple settles in, the old problems that permeate their marriage–his unhealthy behaviors, her indiscretions–start bubbling to the surface. But while they attempt to mend their relationship, their neighbor, an intense young woman, is showing a little too much interest in their activities.
Meanwhile, Caroline slowly begins to uncover some signs of life in the stark house–signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music might seem innocent to anyone else–but to her they are clues. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone who knows her, someone who knows the secrets she’s desperate to forget
The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet is a domestic mystery with elements of suspense.
In May of 2015, Caroline and her husband, Francis, swap houses for a week with another homeowner who is a complete stranger. Caroline’s marriage has been somewhat rocky for the past a few years and they are hoping the time away from their young son Eddie and the stresses of regular life will help them reconnect. However, Caroline is oddly uneasy in their new surroundings especially after meeting their temporary neighbor, Amber. When she begins noticing strange objects that remind her of an affair she ended eighteen months earlier, Caroline begins to suspects her former lover, Carl, is somehow involved. But why would he want to come back into her life? And more importantly, does she want him to?
Narrated mainly from Caroline’s point of view, the novel weaves back and forth in time beginning in December of 2012 with Caroline’s affair until it ends early July 2013 and the house swap in 2015. Caroline is not a particularly likable or sympathetic character not just due to her infidelity but because she could have walked away from her marriage yet she did not. She is incredibly focused on her illicit relationship and while she has good reason to resent Francis, she made the choice to stay with him despite his downward spiral. Caroline is incredibly self-absorbed but it is not until the truth comes out about her house swapping partner that readers understand how incredibly selfish she truly is.
Francis also narrates several chapters and well, he is not exactly any more likable than his wife. A therapist who is several years older than Caroline, he, for unknown reasons, has fallen into a deep depression that results in a very unhealthy coping mechanism. Francis has checked out of his marriage and he is not an attentive father to his young son. Everyone around him, including his patients, suffer because of his choices and it is not at all understandable why Caroline did not leave him. Their marriage remains a work in progress but their old issues continue to crop up especially in times of stress.
A handful of chapters are written from the unknown house swapper’s perspective and it is very obvious right from the start this person is deeply troubled. There are no hints about the motivation for the swap but over the course of the week, it becomes clear that Caroline is the target of this person’s unhealthy obsession. The revelation of the person’s identity also includes the explanation for exactly why Caroline’s affair finally ended and how Amber fits into the present day events.
Despite an intriguing premise, The House Swap is an incredibly slow-paced novel. The reasons for Caroline’s decisions both in the past and present are unfathomable. It is impossible to understand why she remains in the swapped house when it becomes obvious someone is targeting her for unknown reasons. Rebecca Fleet does throw in a few plot twists late in the novel but it is difficult to remain invested in the final outcome due to the slow parceling of information and the cast of unlikable, under developed characters.