The Stopped Heart

Written by Julie Myerson
Review by Bethany Latham

Mary and Graham Coles, attempting to rebuild after a tragedy, move into a cottage in a small English village. Mary, gripped by soul-destroying grief, experiences strange occurrences – she feels she’s not alone in the house, she sees children, a red-haired man, and there’s something unsettling about the cottage’s garden. Meanwhile, in the Victorian period, the cottage’s past occupants – a large family with several children – hunker down during a storm. When it’s over, the huge oak in the yard has blown down, pinning a red-haired man underneath. Miraculously alive, this young drifter joins the family as a farm hand, but something is disquieting about him…

Due to its literary nature, this psychological suspense novel is an exercise in the slow build. There’s foreshadowing galore, and it’s been quite a while since I read anything this dialogue-heavy – pages upon pages of tête-à-tête. The dialogue is simple, well-written and convincing; occasionally there’s just too much of it, a story creaking under the weight of conversation. The exploration of the effect of terrible events, of Mary and, to a lesser extent, Graham’s grief, is so adept as to be, frankly, depressing. As does Graham in the novel, the reader feels herself trying to stay afloat while the boat anchor of Mary’s misery drags and catches, yanking her under again and again.

The gloomy ambiance is well-crafted, as is the characterization, especially mental/emotional states. Yet there are a few aspects that defy one’s willing suspension of disbelief – there are facets of this novel that simply do not make sense. In toto, this book, and this reader’s reaction to it, is difficult to detail without ruinous plot spoilers. Suffice it to say that Myerson kept me so engaged I stayed up til 2 a.m. to see how things would resolve…and once I did, rather wished I’d gone to bed early.