Bantam Press | 2018 (22 March) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
Pharmaceutical entrepreneur and billionaire Jack Harkness is currently on bail in London, charged with corruption on a staggering scale, his ankle fitted with an electronic monitoring device to keep him from taking off. Meanwhile, his grand house, high on a cliff on the Lizard in Cornwall, stands empty except for house sitter Blake. But unbeknown to Blake, Jack has given the house to his soon-to-be ex-wife and she wants it sold. Her solicitor Fran Revell hires estate agent Don Challenor to head down to Cornwall to evaluate the house. Don happens to be Fran’s ex-husband. She probably thought that she was doing Don a favour. When Don discovers firstly, a house sitter that nobody knew about and secondly, a panic room that is supposed not to exist and is locked from the INSIDE, it becomes quite clear that far from being a favour, Fran might well have cost them all their lives, including her own. Somebody wants what’s in that panic room and there is nothing they won’t do to get it open.
Panic Room is the fourth Robert Goddard thriller that I’ve read and it’s quite possibly my favourite – although I’m a huge fan of his Max Maxted The Wide World trilogy so I may need to argue with myself on this. Panic Room grabbed me from the very beginning thanks to the intriguing figure of Blake. She’s our narrator for much of the novel and she is obviously keeping secrets from us. Despite all the mystery, I really liked her. And then Don Challenor arrives at the house, a much older man, driving his beloved MG, and I completely fell for him as well. Both characters couldn’t be more different from one another but the friendship that slowly develops between them is great to read. And to be honest, both Don and Blake are really going to need to be able to rely on one another to stay alive, so it’s just as well they get along.
The whole novel has the structure of a countdown and so time feels pressured from the off. As soon as the panic room is found the tension begins to mount, not least because of the terrifying notion that the door has been locked on the inside. The narrative swaps between Blake’s first person thoughts and then the third person sections which follow Don as he delves deeper into a mystery he cannot escape from. He is caught in a knot. The font changes for these perspectives, making it clearer where one ends and another begins. It all serves to raise the book’s temperature and make those pages fly through the fingers.
I loved the plot. Robert Goddard is a master of thriller writing and it certainly shows here. Everything is designed to prevent us from putting the book down unread. The action is so exciting, the baddies deliciously villainous, and looming over it all is the enigmatic and charismatic figure of Jack Harkness. But what we all want to know – the reader, Blake, Don, baddies, Fran, everyone – is what is in the panic room?! And I’m delighted to say that when we do finally find out, I loved how everything came together. This is expertly done. In fact, I think there is only one thing about the novel that I was less keen on – and that is the witchlike (and stereotypical) character of Wynsum Fry.
One of the aspects of Panic Room that I really loved on a personal level was its Cornish setting. I know this part of Cornwall very well indeed and I could recognise many of the places we’re taken to, such as Mullion, as well as pubs that I’ve been to (not least the Blue Anchor in Helston). I loved how this added even more pleasure to my reading of the book.
Panic Room confirmed the place of Robert Goddard in my reading affections and the book actually sparked off a bit of a thriller reading frenzy, which I hugely enjoyed and is ongoing. I now have plenty more of Goddard’s books to read (with such grateful thanks to his publisher) and I can’t wait to read them as well as anything else he writes in the future.