THE WATCHER by Ross Armstrong
Reviewed by Stuart Johnstone
The cover of The Watcher evokes Alfred Hitchcock’s the Birds and it’s a fitting comparison. Ross Armstrong’s tense psychological thriller weaves a complex web of twists and turns that build a sense of tension and peril that the great director himself would be proud of.
The Watcher follows Lily, a bird watcher who lives in posh new flats in London. But she spends more time spying on the lives of her neighbours on the adjacent crumbling estate than she does on her feathered friends. She befriends one of those neighbours, Jean, but when the older woman is murdered, Lily is compelled to investigate the gruesome crime herself.
To start with a somewhat ditsy character, Lily is soon drawn into a world of subterfuge that eventually leads to her questioning her sanity. Written in the first person from her perspective, the author excels at conveying her self-doubt and internal struggles as she peels back the layers on the lives of the people who live on the estate. It is clear as the story progresses, that Lily is not exactly who she first seems, but it is not clear for a long time, exactly what type of person she is.
An enjoyable page-turner
Intriguingly, there is a healthy dose of middle-class guilt from Lily, who looks with pity at her neighbours who are struggling to survive in conditions of poverty, while she and her author husband live in comfort, so close yet so far away. It’s an added element of intrigue, especially in these post-Brexit times when economic fears fuel all sorts of negativity.
It’s hard to argue against the theory that The Watcher is a derivative book. With the Hitchcock influence obvious, and the voyeuristic elements of Lily’s behaviour resembling Girl On a Train, it doesn’t feel strikingly original. However, Armstrong, an actor making his debut as a writer, has enough flair in his sentences to make his first book a thoroughly enjoyable page-turning, which keeps its secrets close to the final page. It’s a promising start from a young writer who knows how to tell a decent story.