Louise Welsh - The Girl on the Stairs (4 stars)

Chilling thriller about Glaswegian who moves to Berlin and her red-hooded neighbour

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Mystery Novel: Louise Welsh's The Girl on the Stairs

(John Murray)

While that title may suggest Louise Welsh has swerved into Richard Curtis-esque romcom territory, a swift glance at the front cover tells a very different story. Ever since Nic Roeg stuck a killer dwarf into a red mac for his psycho-chiller Don’t Look Now, the mere mention of a similar rouge garment in a piece of culture can only mean one thing: spooky terror is afoot. And so the sight of a young girl (symbolising the story’s precocious 13-year-old Berliner) staring up at us through a flight of stairs sets a chilling mood that Louise Welsh rarely lets up in this wonderfully atmospheric novel.

Heavily-pregnant Glaswegian Jane Logan has moved to the German capital with her partner Petra, a Dietrich-esque businesswoman who heads to Vienna for a week’s work just at the point where Jane’s paranoia reaches its zenith. Everywhere she looks there are subtle threats and suspicious characters, none more so than her neighbour Alban Mann, a gynaecologist who seems to have an overly cosy relationship with the local prostitutes. His daughter Anna is the titular little red riding hoodie who may or may not be the subject of domestic abuse and whose missing mother remains an unsolved mystery; though the confused pensioner downstairs is convinced that Greta Mann is buried in a makeshift grave nearby.

The initial shades of Rosemary’s Baby and The Turn of the Screw are skilfully wielded by Louise Welsh and moulded into some fresh and horrible terrain, with the wartime ghosts of this haunted city rising up as old Germany clashes against the shock of the new.

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