Stephen King in his effusive praise of Robert Goddard’s novels finishes with the question- ‘Who else have I missed that’s this good?’
And that’s a question I had to ask myself, as I began to read Goddard’s ‘Panic Room’. Goddard is good. So good. Take Don Challenor, an out- of -work real estate agent hired to sell a few million pounds worth of isolated Cornwall mansion. Add in Blake, the housekeeper who won’t leave, a little bit of witchcraft, Jane Glasson, the girl who went missing all those years ago, Jack Harkness, multi-millionaire owner of Harkness Pharmaceuticals, charged with fraud and presently under house arrest. And what does the woman say to the tiger in the zoo? Throw in Elixtris, the face cream that rather uncannily truly does bring back youth. And then there’s the steel-lined panic room Don Challenor discovers. These elements mixed together with Goddard’s clipped and assured prose and his meticulous attention to pace and plot results in one terrific novel.
The novel begins with Don Challenor’s visit to the Cornwall mansion and this brings in another factor that makes Goddard’s writing special. The imagery, the description of surrounding Cornwall, his first view of the house, draws you in. You are with Challenor as he walks through rooms he believes are empty. Then comes the element of surprise; there is a woman swimming naked in the pool. And that is part of what this novel does; it spins a story where you are constantly jolted by the unexpected. As well as that, the characters- Blake, Challenor- are entirely convincing as they begin to suspect that Jane Glasson’s mysterious disappearance is somehow linked to Jack Harkness and start to put the missing pieces together. The way Goddard mixes the narrative between Blake’s own story told in first person and the rest in third works wonderfully in the way the short sections create a driving sense of tension.
‘Panic Room’ is complex, brilliantly plotted and paced-unputdownable. It sent me searching for more of Robert Goddard.
Reviewer: Paddy Richardson
Penguin Random House, RRP $37