Must-read: The Girl Below by Bianca Zander
Psychological thrillers and mysteries have become very popular lately. Books such as Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson combine suspense with an underlying mystery that keeps the reader hooked from beginning to end. Bianca Zander's debut novel The Girl Below is in this same vein -- a woman returns to London after a 10-year self-imposed exile, intent on uncovering her childhood memories and discovering what really happened one fateful night.
Suki Piper is 28 years old, and for the last 10 years, she has lived in New Zealand. She escaped London for this far-away country, but now she has returned to her home city, where she lived with her parents when she was young. Now that she is alone in the world — her father abandoned her when she was young, and her mother died when she was a teenager — Suki feels the need to revisit the places of her past. She has had some trouble with drugs and alcohol in the past, and she no longer knows where she can turn. As Suki immerses herself in London once again, fragmented memories begin to surface. Images come to her unbidden, and Suki realizes that there are things about her childhood she does not remember — and that she does not understand.
Unsure of herself and what she wants to accomplish, Suki wanders aimlessly around London. Her old friends show little interest in rekindling their relationships, and Suki finds herself completely alone in a now-strange city. On an impulse, Suki goes by the building where she grew up, only to find that Peggy, their old neighbor, still lives in the same flat that she did all those years ago. Peggy is suffering from dementia, and through spending time with her, Suki reconnects with the rest of Peggy's family. Suki is thrilled to see Pippa, Peggy's daughter, who used to babysit for Suki when she was a kid. Pippa takes pity on Suki and introduces her to her husband and son.
When Pippa asks Suki to stay with Peggy while her family goes on vacation, Suki can't help but say yes. After all, it's a chance for Suki to try to uncover the secrets of her childhood, and besides, what else does she have to do? As she cares for Peggy, Suki begins to have flash backs — to revisit her childhood in her dreams. She puzzles over the memories that come to her — the girl below, an air raid shelter, a garden party — trying to figure out what they mean and how they might connect to her present.