Gytha Lodge’s sophomore thriller delivers an opening worthy of Hitchcock: Aidan is Skyping his girlfriend, Zoe, late at night when he sees someone enter her apartment. Helpless, he listens to the struggle that ends Zoe’s life, but Aidan isn’t willing to reveal himself to the police.
Like Lodge’s first novel She Lies in Wait, Watching From the Dark untangles the victim's complex personal relationships by alternating between the months before the murder and the investigation afterward. Zoe is a dynamic and compassionate woman, the glue that holds her dysfunctional friend group together. Struggling with everything from PTSD to narcissism, Zoe’s friends are occasionally manipulative and controlling. She is their support system and caretaker, and so when she becomes embroiled in a love affair that leaves her with less time for her friends, she begins to see the cracks in their one-sided relationships. Even her romance is fraught, though, as Aiden is secretive and dishonest with Zoe.
Lodge balances out all of this drama with the calm, steadfast demeanor of her series lead, DCI Jonah Sheens. Even as Zoe’s life unravels, Sheens’ constancy keeps the procedural aspect of the novel moving along smoothly, assuring the reader that the villain will eventually be revealed from among the ensemble cast.
The beauty of Lodge’s writing is her ability to juxtapose the careful sleuthing of a police procedural against an emotional deep dive into the lives of her characters. Zoe is not just a body and a point of focus for Lodge’s male detective; rather, she is granted a complex identity. In a genre that often commodifies the bodies of dead women, the care given to Zoe’s character feels especially important.
As the novel wraps up, secrets are revealed and characters exposed for who they really are, the reader can fall back on Sheens’ reliability in an atmosphere where no one is trustworthy. Lodge’s autopsy of complicated friendships and love affairs feels occasionally tragic, but the justice that Sheens and his team deliver is eminently satisfying.