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Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott review: A slow-burning thriller that explodes into horror

Megan Abbott returns to fiction with a psychological thriller set against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement

As an author who’s always trying to write different books to those I’ve produced before, I’m constantly impressed by writers who effortlessly pull off this kind of thing. A great example is one of my favourite writers, Megan Abbott.

Abbott started her career writing in the vein of classic noir, before moving on to a hugely successful spell writing contemporary thrillers revolving around teenage girls. Her terrific Dare Me, about the passions and dangers of cheerleading, was made into a fantastic television series, which has led her into even more success as a screenwriter. 

But she has returned to fiction with Beware the Woman, a novel which could easily fit into the psychological horror genre. The story is narrated by Jacy, in her early thirties, married to craftsman Jed and pregnant with his child, as they embark on a trip to stay with Dr Ash, Jed’s father who is a retired doctor. It’s a classic cabin-in-the-woods set up with no wifi and a terrible phone signal and, of course, everything seems fine to begin with. Dr Ash is all Midwest silver-fox charm to his daughter-in-law, but the spectre of his own long-dead wife is a pretty clear signal early on that something might be awry. 

Abbott handles all this with a slow-burn of creepy revelation in the first half of the book. Jed gradually reconnects with old childhood friends and regresses to a seemingly teenage self, while Dr Ash becomes more controlling, and Jacy is slowly isolated and gaslighted into doubting her hormonal self. Then there’s the stern housekeeper, always watching Jacy and keeping secrets of her own. This eventually explodes into full-blown horror, but it’s all done with a depth that is the hallmark of all of Abbott’s writing.

As the action escalates to a shocking climax, it’s all underpinned by believable and realistic motivations, the spectre of the recent #MeToo movement providing context and adding to the veracity of the twisted tale. Scintillating and chilling writing from start to finish. 

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist 

Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott book cover

Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott is out now (Virago, £18.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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