Title: What Lies Beneath Us
Author: Kirsty Ferguson
Published: 22nd February 2019
Publisher: Elephant Tree Publishing
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Crime, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Rating: 3.5 stars
Jessica James had the perfect life. She had a good job, supportive friends, and her husband Geoff and her son Jack both adored her. Everything changed the moment she found out she was having another child.
Now she’s a stay-at-home mum, they have barely enough money coming in, Jack is a troubled ten-year-old and she feels there’s an insurmountable divide between her and her husband. Worse still, her feelings towards her youngest son are just wrong. Does her recent diagnosis of post-partum depression explain those feelings or is something more sinister going on?
The unthinkable occurs when baby Jason is found dead in his cot. At the time of his death, Geoff is away on a camping trip. Now Jessica finds herself accused of murder and is vilified by all those who once claimed to love her. As the evidence mounts against her, Jessica must come to terms with the fact that she may well have had something to do with her baby’s death.
When a second tragedy rocks the James family, Jessica’s world quickly unravels, and she spirals into darkness. Meanwhile, Victorian Detectives Hunter and Cooper investigate the infant’s homicide, but are quickly left with more questions than answers.
By the time they get to the bottom of this mystery, will there be anyone left of the James family to save?
What Lies Beneath Us is an 2019 Elephant Tree Publishing release from Australian author Kirsty Ferguson. A domestic noir, with themes of depression, postpartum depression and anxiety, this is a tangled family mystery, that will keep you guessing from the start to the close of the novel.
Author Kirsty Ferguson takes a strong look at what appears on the surface as a happy, calm and ordered family unit morphs into something much more sinister. Peeling back the layers of the James family, the birth of second son Jason has marked a changed direction for this family. A seemingly content family unit, Geoff and Jessica, plus their first born son Jack, have made the most of life. However, the entrance of baby Jason alters the family in an unexpected direction. Cracks begin to show in Jessica and Geoff’s marriage, financial constraints begin to emerge, Jack becomes more troubled by the presence of his brother in the family fold and Jessica cannot shake her dark feelings of depression. Geoff takes a breather and while he is away on a camping weekend with his buddies, a terrible event occurs, ripping the James family apart. Jessica is charged with the death of her son, which sees her victimised by those closest to her. Meanwhile, Jessica herself is unsure if she killed her son or not. While the investigation into her son’s death continues, another tragedy occurs, leaving the authorities, as well as Jessica reeling. With so many grey areas and uncertainty, the James family will never be the same again.
Based on my perusal of the front cover, blurb and opening warning page, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I first picked up What Lies Beneath Us to read for a review. I think this is a good first impression, there is plenty of uncertainty, surprising moments and shocks that follow What Lies Beneath Us. In summing up this novel, I would best describe it as an emotional family drama, a murder mystery and a domestic noir title. What Lies Beneath Us is a book that took me to some uncomfortable places and realities, and for that reason I do issue a trigger warning to potential readers. Within the pages of this novel Kirsty Ferguson includes themes of anxiety, depression, postpartum depression, infanticide and SIDS. The author is very mindful of these themes and prior to the novel, she has inserted a page dedicated to sources of help. These include websites, organisations and phone numbers to reach out to if you are in need of these essential services.
As a mother of two young children I did find that I was able to put myself in the main protagonist, Jessica James’ shoes, but it was an uncomfortable situation. Personally, I have been lucky enough not to be touched by postpartum depression, depression or anxiety, which are featured in this novel. I could relate to a point, particularly as I do know of people in my life socially that have been affected by these health issues. Kirsty Ferguson does a very good job of reaching inside the mind of a new mother struggling with postpartum depression. Ferguson successfully explores the complexity of feelings, thoughts, the clouded mindset and behaviours of someone suffering from undiagnosed depression. Ferguson also provides the reader with an insight into the vilification process many with undiagnosed depression face by both their loved ones and the wider community. This part was handled with sensitivity and insight, but I will say I found it emotionally tough to read.
In terms of the mystery and suspense side of things, What Lies Beneath Us is quite the mind mixer. There were plenty of plot twists, unexpected and major narrative turns that ensured that this novel was never straightforward, nor predictable. I have to say the pit of my stomach really ached while reading this one and it was a real nail-biter. I guessed, second guessed and I changed my mind a number of times in relation to the actions of the characters.
The investigation into the two possible crimes this book throws up was presented well. The police investigation and medical forensic based sequences were authentic and engaging. I really felt for the detectives assigned to this case, it was so complex and gut wrenching. In the end, the final result didn’t quite sit as well with me as I thought, I found it almost unfathomable – perhaps I just missed the clues!
What Lies Beneath Us is a volatile family mystery. It is a carefully written novel, complete with deft characterisation, a strong examination of some tough but vital awareness raising themes, combined with a complex mystery. Add What Lies Beneath Us to your pile of domestic fiction with a dark twist if this is an area you gravitate towards.
What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson was published on 22nd February 2019 by Elephant Tree Publishing. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of What Lies Beneath Us, Kirsty Ferguson visit here.
I wish to thank Elephant Tree Publishing for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
What Lies Beneath Us is book #68 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge