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The Couple at Number 9


The Couple at Number 9

Claire Douglas has consistently written top-notch psychological thrillers that keep readers guessing. THE COUPLE AT NUMBER 9 may be her finest creation to date. It is so intricately plotted that I could not stay ahead of the twists and just went along for the ride straight through to the stunning conclusion.

A very pregnant Saffron Cutler moves into 9 Skelton Place with her boyfriend, Tom. One day, while a construction crew excavates their backyard during renovations, the workers uncover the remains of two bodies. The police determine that they had been buried there for at least 30 years and would like to speak to the cottage’s former owner, who happens to be Saffy’s grandmother, Rose. Unfortunately, she is in a nursing home suffering from dementia.

"[THE COUPLE AT NUMBER 9] is so intricately plotted that I could not stay ahead of the twists and just went along for the ride straight through to the stunning conclusion."

Saffy visits her grandmother and mentions the bodies. Rose blurts out, “Is it Sheila?” Saffy can’t get any more information out of her and isn’t able to confirm who Sheila is. She realizes that she needs to speak to her mother, Lorna, who lives in Spain. We also follow a chef named Theo; his identity and purpose will soon become clear. His elderly father, Victor, is reading the newspaper report about the discovery at Skelton Place and writes on the page “Find Her.”

We then begin to enjoy throwback chapters featuring Rose and her old lodger, Daphne Hartall. I won’t give anything away here as these portions of the book are extremely important to the plot and contain secrets that Douglas has so deftly planted for readers to dig up, like skeletons from the ground.

Lorna eventually arrives in England and stays with Saffy and Tom during this ordeal. She also meets with Rose but can’t unlock her memory about anything that makes even a modicum of sense. The real answers to some of the family secrets may be found in boxes that have been stored in the attic. Saffy and Lorna go through them and discover not just photographs but also various newspaper clippings. One, for instance, talks about a missing woman named Sheila Watts, who was thought to be a drowning victim.

Lorna resolves to find out whatever she can about both Sheila and Daphne. While unable to learn anything more about Sheila, she does locate Daphne’s brother, Alan, only to be told that his sister died of cancer in 1971. This completely throws off the timeline of the woman of the same name who lived at Skelton Place nine years later. Meanwhile, one of the bodies is identified as Neil Lewisham, who had been reported missing in April 1980 by his wife. The name means nothing to any of them.

THE COUPLE AT NUMBER 9 has a final act that is one of the best I have read in a while. It requires a shrewd mind and plenty of cunning to come close to figuring out this brilliant piece. The ending is quite intelligent and worthy of all the work that Claire Douglas has done with a plot that starts with two skeletons and just builds out from there.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 5, 2022

The Couple at Number 9
by Claire Douglas