on January 8, 2019
Genres: Adult Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 379 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley
Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle.
Now an adult, Seraphine mourns the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is beautifully dressed, smiling serenely, and holding just one baby.
Who is the child and what really happened that day?
One person knows the truth, if only Seraphine can find her.
*Many thanks to Berkely and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!*
In today’s over saturated world of mediocre thrillers, it can be hard to find one that simultaneously manages to surprise me and that’s well written. So many thriller novels I actually find work better for me in a movie format, so I’m always on a hunt for a solidly written mystery/thriller that manages to create an unsettling, atmospheric world on the page. That’s exactly what I experienced with The Au Pair to my delight, and found myself completely immersed in a mystery that not only enveloped me in its setting, but actually had an ending that I didn’t foresee in advance.
The Au Pair is a mystery told in a dual timeline story, switching back and forth between Laura, an au pair for a wealthy British family at their country mansion, and Seraphine, a daughter from the same family who wasn’t watched by Laura but who is determined to find out the truth about her family’s shady past after the death of her father. Seraphine believes the family’s previous au pair, Laura, may know more than she’s letting on about her family’s history (is she adopted, why did her mother commit suicide hours after giving birth, etc.) Of course, this leads to Seraphine making bad, impulsive decisions to try and trick Laura into meeting with her and she’s like NOPE and does the classic “never speak to me again” while also receiving a threatening letter about keeping quiet about the events of Summerbourne all those years ago which of course just makes Seraphine dig deeper into the tragic past of her family’s estate.
While I enjoyed both narrators, I was especially fond of Laura’s timeline and seeing the Summerbourne estate at the height of its infamy when it was bustling with drama and intrigue. Laura, a single child from a middle class family in London, becomes so entangled and entrenched in her posh employer’s family dramas and her journey into becoming unhealthily enmeshed in the family is both believable and compelling. I was also particularly fascinated by the fact that she was such a neutral character, who I neither liked nor disliked and who was both a good person (she was wonderful with Edwin, her toddler charge) and who also made really terrible decisions at times. She was a character who was perfect as the protagonist in a mystery because her neutral personality made it hard to guess her motivations and how she would respond and react to the twists and turns in the narrative.
My absolute favorite thing about the book, however, was the atmospheric setting. Summerbourne itself felt like a character, a beautiful yet slightly eerie house set on the cliffs in the countryside that’s been the site of so many tragic events, and yet is such a defining and magnetic force for both the family and the community. It’s sprawling grounds, dangerously rocky beach and sense of grandeur slightly gone to seed was a deeply beautiful and yet unsettling backdrop for the mystery, and it felt like the mansion itself was playing a role in keeping secrets and pushing the characters into their questionable decisions. I also liked the slight fairytale esque thread throughout the narrative due to the lore that surrounds the myth of the Summerbourne twins, and the curse that plagues them and the rumors of sprites and changelings. It lends itself to the overall unsettling and anxiety inducing feeling I had throughout reading the entire novel which is a great feeling when reading a mystery novel!
Obviously when reviewing a mystery/thriller I can’t speak too much to the plot details or twists, but I will say that I didn’t guess the ending or the antagonist which is so refreshing! The ending did however get a little far fetched at the end to tie all of the plot threads together (it was definitely possible, just not very probably) however I did like how the big reveal didn’t fall all on one character but rather it was the culmination of several character’s motives and actions.
Overall: The Au Pair is one of the best mystery stories I’ve read in a while. It’s cleverly crafted with all of the family entanglements and every character was complex. While the ending was a little far-fetched and convenient, I overall enjoyed the twists and adored the setting, and highly recommend The Au Pair to readers who love slow burn unsettling thrillers.