The popularity of the adjective “Hitchcockian” in reviews of suspense fiction is a tribute to the way in which the films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) have become synonymous with cunning puzzles, ratcheted tension and a psychological complexity (especially involving women) that grew partly from the director’s Catholicism.
His example stalks this month’s three choices – most directly The Woman in the Window (Harper Collins, 427pp, £12.99), a much publicised debut by AJ Finn, a pseudonym for a former New York publisher, Daniel Mallory.
Finn acknowledges inspiration from Hitchcock’s 1954 movie Rear Window in which James Stewart, a photographer confined to home by a broken leg, spots suspicious activity in an apartment opposite.
Seeking another reason for a protagonist who is unable to leave the house, Finn alights on agoraphobia. Anna Fox, a child psychologist, hasn’t left her building for 10 months, during which she has spent too much time drinking and thinking about the lives glimpsed though the windows of neighbours, especially the Russells – Alistair, Jane and their son, Ethan – who have just moved into a brownstone across the way. One day Anna sees something seemingly dangerous.
The trick in post-Hitchcock fiction is to channel the master’s spirit, while also incorporating plot devices that were unavailable in his time. Finn gains much fresh ground from new technology. Digital connection, we fascinatingly learn, has opened up the world of the agoraphobic. Anna has food, medication and clothes delivered by courier, maintains some therapy clients via Skype and has lively exchanges with other sufferers in a chat room called Agora.
Across 100 punchy chapters, Finn deals out satisfying surprises and reveals. The prose is sharply visual: someone scratched by a cat receives “two quick rakes north-south, east-west: a bright grid of blood sprang to the skin”. But the writer also makes smart use of the fact that it is easier in print than film to prevent the audience seeing certain things. A movie is in production, with the key decision for its makers being to what extent it should copy the shots of Rear Window.
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