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Warning! Real-life haunting thriller should not be read after dark

Shadow of a Doubt by Michelle Davies 

Incarcerated in a psychiatric unit at the age of nine for the murder of her young brother on a fateful night in 1994, Cara Belling still insists that his killer was a terrifying poltergeist.

Twenty-five years later – and still shunned by what remains of her family – Cara is being forced to return to her old home and face up to the truth of what happened… and the evil that she is convinced lurks inside its four walls.

Still basking in the success of her gripping police series starring family liaison officer DC Maggie Neville, freelance journalist and author Michelle Davies turns her hand to a cracking standalone story which melds chiller-thriller menace with an intriguing crime mystery.

Brimming with tension, fast-paced drama, and mind-bending twists and turns, Shadow of a Doubt was inspired by a real-life, infamous haunting and should come with a warning not to be read after the hours of darkness.

When her six-year-old brother Matty was found smothered to death inside a curtain at their home in Essex, Cara Belling was blamed for the killing and spent two years in a psychiatric unit being treated for a delusional disorder.

The whole world – including her parents – believed that nine-year-old Cara killed Matty on that long ago night, but she claimed the murderer was a poltergeist called Limey Sam who had been disturbing her nights and haunting their house for some months before.

After Cara’s treatment ended, her family refused to take her back and she was put into foster care with a kind and caring couple in Morecambe. Now aged 34, she has forged a new, but lonely, life for herself under the name Cara Marshall in Colchester where she cleaves to routine and avoids serious relationships.

But after the devastating news that her widowed mother has died from cancer, Cara returns to her home town and learns that her mother has inexplicably left their home to her in her will, much to the chagrin of the extended family.

‘At the heart of the mystery is Cara… a spiky, unsociable loner, fearful of forming close relationships and with a history that shows her to be capable of aggression and violence’

Cara is terrified of returning to the house but her foster mother convinces her that the place might be ‘at the root’ of what really happened, and that her dying mother may have thought that it was finally time to seek out any evil and ‘lay the ghost to rest.’

Davies plays a blinder with this enthralling page-turner as readers are chased by disturbing shadows of dread and uncertainty from the first, chilling opener through an exhilarating series of red herrings and dark secrets, and on to the shocking dénouement.

At the heart of the mystery is Cara… a spiky, unsociable loner, fearful of forming close relationships and with a history that shows her to be capable of aggression and violence, but whose sense of loss eats her up. 

As past and present collide in spectacular fashion, Davies explores fascinating questions about handling grief and loss, how society regards those perceived to have a mental illness, and whether childhood memories can be warped and distorted by time.

Haunting, heartbreaking, expertly plotted, and with an unexpectedly powerful emotional punch, Shadow of a Doubt delivers on every count.

(Shadow of a Doubt by Michelle Davies, Orion, paperback, £8.99)

Pam Norfolk
Pam Norfolk has been writing book reviews for over ten years, including for the Wordsworth Trust. She has also worked as a reporter and sub-editor on regional and national newspapers.

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