Book review: Close Your Eyes by Rachel Abbott

Close Your Eyes is book 10 from the Tom Douglas series by Rachel Abbott. It’s my second cultish psychological thriller in a month.

Douglas finds himself investigating the murder of the wife of a successful tech businessman. Martha, who works for the businessman, is entrusted with taking care of all his financial affairs so she knows where the bodies are buried. She does a disappearing act with her young son soon after the killing and becomes a prime suspect in the murder investigation.

Told from the points of view of Martha and Douglas, there is a gradual unfolding of both the investigation and Martha’s past. The underlying themes of the novel are coercive control and psychological abuse using cults as a vehicle.

Words can manipulate to create a false sense of shared values, close down debate and coerce obedience. The language of cults aims to make people feel simultaneously unique and connected with each other, separate from ‘others’ and dependent on the leader to such an extent that life without them feels impossible. Cults engender both devotion and financial commitment (or abuse depending on how you view it) to create an environment ripe for exploitation.

To drift from the path of the cultish group’s expectations means exclusion and isolation, feeding on people’s fear of being an outsider. Mental manipulation convinces people to behave in ways that are in conflict with their former integrity and sense of self. The same methods can be successfully applied whether it’s a religious cult, a commercial cult, a conspiracy theorist group, a political or racist cult, or a toxic intimate relationship. And for dissidents, it’s off with their heads, either metaphorically of literally.

As Martha’s backstory unfolds we discover why she is such a secretive person and why she did a runner when the police turned up. The plot of Close Your Eyes is well crafted and sets a good pace. With carefully placed red herrings and blind alleys. The story gradually unfolds in a way that is disquietingly claustrophobic and discomforting.

Close Your Eyes can be read as a standalone, so don’t feel you have to start at book one if you don’t want to, though I doubt you’d be disappointed if you did.

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