Nora Johnson: Do you really know your neighbours?

Nora Johnson: Do you really know your neighbours?

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Like an essential riposte to the continuing waves of appalling global events, crime novels have seen a sales boom, a trend unforeseen even by hard-bitten crime fiction detectives. Anxious about volatility in the real world, readers now seek reassurance in stories where baddies get their just deserts.

People face many challenges in life and crime fiction lets readers forget their own struggles. They like a ‘formula’. There’s a death. A detective investigates. The perpetrator is unmasked in a plot involving cunning clues, red herrings and final justice. No mystery at all!

One challenge one family recently faced was the tragic disappearance and death of Nicola Bulley. Coincidentally, my just-published thriller “The Couple across the Street” begins with the disappearance in a river of a woman, Michelle. But that’s where the similarities – spoiler alert – end!

This novel was started a year ago before any hint of Nicola Bulley’s fate (my books take a year from research, first draft through to final version and publication). And the situation it depicts doesn’t arise just from feelings of sympathy for the bereaved family left behind. But for quite different reasons. Something that’s puzzled and intrigued me for decades and I needed to explore in this latest book.

And, yes, you guessed, the reasons concern a criminal act. Crime fiction, after all, is my passion. Triggered initially by the study of criminal law for a J.D. (Juris Doctor) law degree decades ago in Los Angeles (winning the Moot Court Prize – a surreal Perry Mason-type experience) where I lived for many eventful years. One morning shortly after Finals, for example, a tax law Professor was shot dead right in front of me! I never did discover if he’d upset some former client or just a student with poor grades…

And this latest suspense thriller? Nicola Goodwin never imagines herself as a widow in her mid-thirties. Losing her husband to a sudden illness shatters her world, but then she unexpectedly meets up with Matt Collins, her childhood love.   As they reconnect after years apart, Nicola can’t help but fall for him. Their affair is passionate and all-consuming, but just as Matt finally decides to leave Michelle his wife, Michelle disappears without trace. When a body is found and identified as hers, apparently a suicide, Matt’s infidelity is considered the primary reason by her grieving family.

DI Barbara Forster seeks answers with the help of Alice Myers, an investigative journalist and creator of an edgy true-crime podcast. As they dig deeper into Michelle’s life, they discover a complex web of secrets and lies that paints a much darker picture, the truth more shocking than anyone imagined.

Throughout it all, Nicola stands by Matt’s side, determined to show he is blameless and salvage their relationship. But with more deaths and the evidence mounting against him, she begins to wonder if she truly knew the man she fell in love with. In the end, the truth emerges, but at a steep cost. Will Nicola be left alone once again, wondering if it was all worth it… A story of how a past passion leads to betrayal and a terrible revenge – one that still torments the present.

Nora Johnson’s 12 critically acclaimed psychological suspense crime thrillers ( all available online including eBooks (€0.99;£0.99), Apple Books, audiobooks, paperbacks at  Amazon etc. Profits to Cudeca cancer charity.   

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