I was fortunate enough to get an advance reading copy of this debut novel from former journalist and NSW local, Jaye Ford. The unofficial cover said that it was the most heart-stopping suspense novel from Random House, and although I can’t 100% confirm that, it was one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read. Rather than being an in depth police procedural, Beyond Fear is a quintessential thriller that focusses more on people than procedure and process. I’ve said in the past that a main character who has suffered previous trauma is more likeable and readers can relate to them more, and Ford has mastered that effortlessly.
We meet Jodie as she and her three friends, Corrine, Hannah and Louise, are taking their annual weekend away. They see it as a perfect opportunity for down time and a chance to relax from their busy lives as mothers, wives, and workers. It was Jodie’s year to pick, and she has chosen a refurbished barn near Bald Hill in New South Wales. A tumultuous start to the weekend results in the ladies losing their car, and relying on local cop-turned-mechanic Matt for transport to town. The women are shaken, but it is Jodie who is completely distraught, and after an incident in the local pub, she is thoroughly rattled. Her friends do their best to be sympathetic, and as readers soon find out, the other women are completely unaware of Jodie’s past – a past Jodie does her best to keep completely under wraps.
Jodie is clearly on edge, and as she grows more convinced something in not quite right at the barn, her friends become more distant and hostile towards her increasingly bizarre behaviour. Completely ostracised by her friends, Jodie becomes convinced she is losing her mind, convinced that maybe her devastating past has caused her to become a little unstable. She takes off from the barn, to cool down a little and try to settle her nerves. But her worst fears are confirmed when she returns to her friends and finds they are not alone.
I loved this book for many reasons, most of all because it is essentially a simple mystery tale. No complex forensic procedures, no grizzly murder scenes… Just a handful of complex characters, and an isolated barn in the middle of the night. It was a genuinely creepy read because you can put yourself completely in the position of Jodie. There have been times for all of us when we feel a little off, like something is not quite right. Beyond Fear recognises that, and shows that sometimes our gut instincts are right, no matter what our nearest and dearest think. I suppose it was creepier still because it is set in Australia, and it does not rely on elaborate serial killers to be more than terrifying.
If you’re a fan of good crime and old-fashioned mysteries, I have no doubt you will love this book. It’s strongest point is in its simplicity, and I will eagerly await Ford’s next novel.