When your first novel gets a cover from none other than Stephen King, it’s safe to say you’ve arrived.
Such is the case of Carole Johnstone, whose debut thriller “Mirrorland” garnered a huge amount of attention before its release, including that of the King of Thrills himself. Remarkably, “Mirrorland” lives up to its hype. With its devilish twists and psychological tricks, it’s not a book you’ll easily put down, or forget.
Cat and her twin sister El are mirror twins, perfectly identical. They are inseparable during their troubled childhood, escaping the horrors of the real world in their secret hideaway, Mirrorland. Sometimes clowns, sometimes pirates, always in one disguise or another, they build an imaginary world where they are always together, protected from their irrational mother and their unpredictable grandfather.
But when a handsome boy named Ross moves in next door, a rift begins to form between them, a rift that grows through the tragedy that abruptly ends their childhood. As they attempt to build new lives for themselves, far from the home they’ve always known, their differences grow until an unforgivable betrayal finally separates them once and for all.
Over a decade later, Cat is unexpectedly brought back into El’s orbit when Ross (now married to El) learns that El has gone missing in what appears to be a boating accident. Cat abandons her crumbling life in Los Angeles and returns to her childhood Scottish home, now owned by Ross and El. The house is full of memories, virtually unchanged by the years and occupants. And Mirrorland is still there, empty except for the echoes of the twins’ childhood.
As Cat is drawn deeper into her own past and her feelings for Ross, inconsistencies appear in the tales of El’s disappearance. To unravel the mystery and uncover the lies, Cat will have to confront the horror that ended her childhood and the secrets locked away in her family’s home. She once survived the monsters that howled outside the walls of Mirrorland, but can she do it again?
Now, a personal confession: Since the start of the pandemic, I have struggled to sit down and read a book. I listen to countless audiobooks, usually while doing other things, but the low-level anxiety that’s always lurking in the back of my mind makes it nearly impossible for me to focus on the words on the page, get lost in the fiction as I always could before.
“Mirrorland” was the first book of most of the year that grabbed me enough to carry it with me, read it with meals, take it to bed at night. His pace is exceptional; a steady rhythm of “just one more page” played in my head whenever it was time for me to put the book down and return to the world.
“Mirrorland” is scary the way Hitchcock movies are scary, with a deep, slippery, existential dread that confounds any sense of reason. If you like a story that opens like a puzzle box and brings every page together, then you’ll love “Mirrorland” as much as I do.
• “Mirrorland” by Carole Johnstone was published Tuesday by Scribner Book Co. It sells for $27.
• Emily Ring is Event Manager and Coordinator for Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staff review books in Thursday’s SCENE each week.