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MAGPIE, Elizabeth Day's tautly woven, emotionally resonant domestic suspense novel, is about the perfect couple, their perfect pregnancy and their not-so-perfect lodger.

Abandoned by her mother as a child, Marisa never thought that children were in the cards for her. Although she has carved out a decent living writing and illustrating personalized children’s books, she and her best friend, Jas, are equal losers in the race to romance. Disappointed with online dating and sick of weird, creepy and emotionally unavailable men, Marisa is just about to call it quits when she meets Jake. Conventionally handsome, goal-oriented and, above all, interested, Jake is almost perfect. Almost. He can be a bit standoffish, is not prone to public displays of affection, and has a weird, codependent relationship with his posh mother, Annabelle, who falls apart if he misses his regularly scheduled weekly phone calls and seems to have her hand in everything he does.

Still, there is one very important thing that Marisa and Jake have in common: they are both ready to start a family, and, given the slim odds of the dating pool, they know it is now or never. So, despite their 10-year age difference, they move in together (a convenient arrangement for Marisa, whose career is not exactly taking off) and decide to embark on the path to parenthood.

"MAGPIE is a twisty, subversive suspense story that, in addition to being a compelling mystery, employs real-world, complicated issues to ramp up the tension."

All is well in their perfect world until Jake reveals to Marisa that he has experienced some financial setbacks at work, and they will need to take in a temporary lodger. Almost immediately, Kate enters the picture. Thirty-six (closer in age to Jake), employed in the publicity department of a film production company, petite, dark-haired and slender, Kate appears to be a stable, responsible lodger. Besides, Jake has always expressed his preference for curvy blondes like Marisa, so it’s not like she has any competition to fear.

Still, the strain of attempting to become pregnant has taken a toll on Marisa’s relationship with Jake. After experiencing the abandonment of her mother at such a young age, she is particularly sensitive to the anxieties that come with wandering eyes and a woman who may have more in common with her intelligent, posh boyfriend than she does. Just when Marisa starts to catch a whiff of something stronger than a tenant-landlord relationship between Kate and Jake, the miraculous happens: she is pregnant, the two lines on the test appearing as a promise of a future free from anxiety and desertion.

As her pregnancy begins, Marisa cannot help but notice bizarre behaviors in Kate. She seems to know things about Marisa and Jake that she shouldn’t; she is strangely possessive of Jake; and she turns up more than once when Marisa is attending yoga or grabbing a cup of coffee. As Kate’s presence becomes smothering and Jake’s attention dwindles, Marisa feels certain that something is amiss, and the only way to ensure her and her baby’s happiness is to figure out what Kate really wants from their lodging arrangement. But between her insecurities, pregnancy hormones, and desperation to preserve her relationship and future, Marisa is stretched to the limit. That’s when her own carefully painted facade begins to crumble, and Kate takes center stage.

MAGPIE is a twisty, subversive suspense story that, in addition to being a compelling mystery, employs real-world, complicated issues to ramp up the tension. Day writes about the struggles of fertility, fertility treatments and the invasive questions and suggestions of others with great wisdom, clarity and compassion. Her control of Marisa's and Kate's emotions, motivations and aspirations never once lets up, even as each woman oscillates between obsession, depression, paranoia and even outright cruelty.

Day deals with seriously complex and difficult subjects, including mental illness, but she handles each element with great sensitivity while never detracting from the nail-biting suspense. Her twists and turns are shocking, unpredictable and often nerve-wracking. And her use of pregnancy --- literally the taking over of a woman’s body --- as a metaphor and a literal fact is relentlessly clever, resulting in tonal shifts from the sinister to the claustrophobic and even the euphoric.

If I have a single complaint about MAGPIE, it’s that the ending felt rushed and a bit too tidy. Day played so effortlessly with her brilliant characters, casting each of them as the villain at one point or another, that the dainty bow she wraps them in at the conclusion feels too convenient and not up to the standard she set earlier in the book. That said, this is a necessary and deeply suspenseful thriller that will make Day a quick favorite among readers of Lisa Jewell, Sarah Vaughan and Katherine Faulkner.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 6, 2022

by Elizabeth Day