Five Strangers: murder on Parliament Hill Fields
Maggie Gruner talks to Andrew Wilson, whose chilling new thriller was inspired by a stroll on the Heath
24 June, 2021 — By Maggie Gruner
ON Parliament Hill Fields one bright Valentine’s Day as visitors view the glittering city skyline, a man attacks his girlfriend with a broken champagne bottle and a knife before turning the blade on himself.
The horrific murder-suicide is the opening scene in a new novel, Five Strangers, by EV.Adamson – a pseudonym for Andrew Wilson, novelist, biographer and journalist, who told Review he got the idea for his psychological thriller while walking across Hampstead Heath.
One of the novel’s “five strangers” who witness the gruesome incident is Jen, a disgraced former “confessional” journalist. Her first-person narrative alternates with that of her friend, Bex, who works for Camden Council’s planning department.
After writing a news story about the murder-suicide, Jen gets creepy Twitter messages saying she is being watched and casting doubt on what happened.
As she investigates, hoping to relaunch her journalistic career by interviewing the other witnesses, she discovers there’s much more to the crime.
The others who witnessed it are a gay hedge fund manager who lives in Primrose Hill, a female Labour MP, a young woman doctor at the Royal Free Hospital, who tried to save the doomed couple, and a teenage pupil at William Ellis School, Highgate.
All, including Jen, have their issues. Pressure tightens on her, and she is already mentally fragile after being sacked from her job and splitting from her boyfriend, Laurence, a Tufnell Park architect.
The ingeniously twisty plot – who cares if it sometimes stretches credulity? – spills shocks and surprises on the way to a startling, unexpected denouement.
There is stalking, jealousy, suspicion, obsession and revenge as the story weaves across the Heath and into surrounding areas including The Bishops Avenue, where Jen visits the multi-millionaire father of the murdered woman, Highgate, King’s Cross, Tufnell Park, Primrose Hill and Kentish Town, where she stays in Bex’s tiny flat.
For a time Jen lives in the home of gung-ho octogenarian ex-reporter Penelope in a huge, mock-gothic house down a side street in the heart of Hampstead village. Shrewd and kind hearted, Penelope encourages Jen, and does some investigation herself. Jen doesn’t listen to her… until it’s nearly too late.
Andrew Wilson lived in Kentish Town for 16 years and knows his novel’s territory well. He told Review he would often walk from his house up towards Dartmouth Park and then across the Heath to Parliament Hill Fields to Hampstead.
“I’ve always loved the Heath, and thought it would make a really strong setting for a novel. One day when I was walking across the Heath I had the idea – what would happen if a group of strangers witnessed a violent crime? Would they remember the incident differently? How would it affect them?”
The novel gives thought-provoking insight into confessional journalism. Jen has alienated most of her friends by writing about them.
Outside a house with a blue plaque noting that between 1960 and 1961 it was home to poet Sylvia Plath (the subject of one of Wilson’s biographies), Jen reflects that as a teenager and young woman she couldn’t get enough of the “confessional mode” of Plath’s writing and is sure that reading it shaped her decision to become a “professional oversharer”.
Jen has been sacked for making up some details about herself, which have been refuted by documentary evidence.
Wilson said: “I’ve always been interested in confessional journalism and how much writers have to reveal about their personal lives. I wanted to write a psychological thriller which had this issue at its dark heart.”
Has he ever witnessed or been involved in a traumatic incident?
“No, but during my thirty years in journalism I’ve interviewed a lot of people who have – both victims and criminals, including David Berkowitz, the infamous Son of Sam serial killer.”
Wilson has written for several national newspapers, and his novels include four featuring Agatha Christie as a detective.
His non-fiction books include biographies of Patricia Highsmith, Sylvia Plath, Alexander McQueen, Harold Robbins and a group biography of the survivors of the Titanic.
His was the first, award-winning, biography of Highsmith, famous for her psychological thrillers, and he said he has been hugely influenced by her novels.
He has a small flat in Bloomsbury, which he describes as one of his favourite areas of London, and has been a tutor on the Faber Academy crime writing course since last year.
“Crime novels by virtue of the genre have to be page-turners,” he said. “We all love novels with strong narratives and fascinating, but flawed characters.”
As Five Strangers gathers pace it becomes a surefire pageturner. Gripping holiday reading.
• Five Strangers. By EV Adamson, HarperCollins, £7.99