charlotte-williams-the-house-on-the-cliff.jpg?w=450Welcome to Cardiff, Wales, home to psychotherapist Jessica Mayhew and her family.

Jessica has it all: lovely home, two great kids, a successful practice, and a loving marriage. Or so she thinks.

She’s sharp and notices small details with her clients, yet somehow misses that things are wrong in her marriage when her frequent-flyer husband, Bob, admits to a one-night stand while away on business.

Think: frosty at home, and you’d be right. She struggles with picturing Bob and his lover while trying to co-parent young Rose and 16 yr-old Nella. Is her marriage over?

But the thaw for Jessica comes in the form of an interesting new client, actor Gwydion Morgan, who arrives asking for her help with a phobia that may affect his career. The son of Evan Morgan, a womanizing, overbearing man with a string of infidelities to his name, Jessica admires Gwydion’s insistence not to trade on his father’s name and to make his own way.

It seems buttons are a huge problem for the incredibly handsome young man, and Jessica feels drawn to him, especially after Bob’s confession and her inability to forgive him.

Jessica soon susses out that the young man’s button phobia masks a deeper issue, and Gwydion admits to a frightening and recurrent dream involving being locked in a box and hearing a man and woman fighting. He wakes before the end of the scene, and soon Jessica is pushing him to remember more. She’s convinced the end of the dream is the way to his recovery.

When Gwydion’s mother calls and says her son has sunk into a deep depression and she thinks he’s suicidal, Jessica breaks one of her own rules and makes a house call. The foreboding Craigfa House reminds the reader of something out of Rebecca, a cliffside Jacobean melange on West Wales. Arianrhod Morgan is grateful Jessica has come to the house. Beautiful but unhappy, the woman has withstood her husband’s ferocious philandering for years. It’s obvious she is concerned about her son.

A drowning off their cliff years before is glossed over until Jessica learns that the young woman, Elsa Lindberg, was actually Gwydion’s nanny. Jessica begins to delve into the case, never imagining the repercussions she will dreg up. Her snooping into the young woman’s death will coincide with Gwydion remembering more and more of his dream until he reaches the devastating end.

How that will impact Jessica and her family run alongside her own distrust of her husband and her growing attraction to the young actor. Who is telling the truth? And who can she really trust?

With her instincts clouded, Jessica tries to find the answers, only to see that the truth may be harder to take than she ever imagined.

A powerful debut thriller, with an interesting family behind it and a keen sense of the psychology that Jessica practices. Williams has a long history or writing for the arts in journalism and making documentaries for the BBC. More recently she’s worked in radio drama on original plays and adaptations. Readers will hope she brings back Jessica for round two down the road.