The Life She Wants – Mel Sherratt – book review

When I worked at The Sentinel, Mel Sherratt would often pop into the office with a copy of her latest novel and leave it on editor Martin Tideswell’s desk to read.

I kept intending to pick up one of her 17 works, and two years on, I’m pleased to be able to say I’ve read a slither of her catalogue of novels having just put down The Life She Wants.

Mel, who lives in Stoke-on-Trent with her husband and her dog, Dexter – named after the fictional serial killer – has been writing for over a decade, after being rejected by publishers for just as long. She’s since sold over 1.8 million copies, written 17 crime fictions, plus five romance books under her alias Marcie Steele.

The Life She Wants is a psychological thriller, released in November 2021. The blurb reads: “From behind the curtains, Sarah spotted the man coming out of the house, followed by the woman. It would be strange seeing people in the property but Sarah was keen to get to know them. She needed to gain their trust.

“When I met Richard, I fell for him instantly. He was able to give me everything I had always wanted, the dream house, security and above all, love like I’d never known. We lived a quiet life in the middle of nowhere; we didn’t need anyone else.

“So, when the empty house next door is sold, I am wary. Will our neighbours invade the perfect life Richard has built for us? As soon as I meet Juliette and Danny, I am reassured. Overwhelmed by grief after the death of their young daughter, they have moved in search of a quiet life and a chance to start again. Over dinner one evening, we hit it off instantly and I know they are just the neighbours we need.

“All is well until Juliette spots a young girl in our garden. Richard convinces her that she is seeing things, that it’s the grief taking over. But Juliette won’t let it go. She is sure she saw a child. She believes that Richard is threatening her. She starts to think that I’m not safe.

“I need to convince Juliette that she’s imagining it. I need to keep Richard happy. If I am to protect everything I have built for myself, she must never find out the truth.

“That my perfect life is built on the deadliest lie.”

The description is written from the point of view of Sarah, Richard’s partner, the reclusive neighbour of the newly moved in grieving parents Juliette and Danny. The young couple had moved to a sleepy Staffordshire village to start afresh after losing their daughter, Emily, escaping the hustle and bustle of the big smoke.

Only, as the book wears on, the neighbours next door seem to get more and more odd – as do the strange goings-on Juliette experiences when she’s home alone, from unlocked doors to teddies in the garden.

The disturbing duo really do get under your skin, but their motives are even more terrifying. Sarah finds herself stuck between a rock and a hard place as she’s locked in a coercively controlled relationship looking after someone else’s child.

This narrative sees some extreme sibling rivalry caused by a traumatic childhood, and it’s heart breaking to see how and why these events unfolded the way they did. But it’s in the present tense where Mel’s gritty writing grips you, desperate to see if Juliette is able to single-handedly solve the mystery of missing ex-girlfriend, child in the garden and notes left on her doorstep.

Juliette and Danny are a likeable, loved up couple, and cruel Richard does his utmost to try and turn them against each other – or at least to manipulate Danny.

In the final few chapters, the pace speeds up to a dramatic finale with an unpredictable twist, which is where I really couldn’t put the book down, despite the clock ticking well into the evening. The Life She Wants is a novel that really got under my skin and made me feel really quite emotional at the domestic situation, with spine chilling moments that have you racing to find out if your predictions are correct.

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