Four pages from the end of Gone Girl, I could only marvel at the ability of Gillian Flynn to maintain an electric level of tension and mystery throughout a 400-pls page novel. Four pages from the end, I still had no idea how this mesmerising book would end, and was every bit as gripped as I had been from the very first page.
A day earlier, at 1.30am in a hotel room in Germany, I was torn between two competing and mutually exclusive demands. I had to know how Gone Girl finished, and therefore read the final 150 pages, but I had to try and get some sleep.
Gillian Flynn has that effect on me, and many many others. In the six years I have been writing Material Witness, no author has delivered a three card trick as powerful as Sharp Objects, Dark Places and now Gone Girl.
In my review of Dark Places, I wrote that Flynn's greatest strength is her ability to put the reader "inside the story, having them live every twist and turn", with her characters.
And she repeats the trick here, in a very clever story in which nothing is quite what it seems and nobody quite who people think they are.
Nick and Amy Dunne are celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary when Amy disappears from their home amidst signs of a struggle. The ensuing investigation - in which Nick, who has no alibi for the critical period, inevitably becomes the focus of suspicion - begins to chip away at the facade of their marriage. In parallel we learn their history through Amy's diaries, which detail the souring of the perfect love story as both lose their jobs and they move back from New York City to Nick's childhood home town on the Mississippi in Missouri.
Seeing the story in alternate chapters from twin perspectives - the present through Nick's eyes, history through Amy's words - is a simple device that immediately ratchets up the tension, lifting the lid on the private institution of marriage and putting husband and wife at loggerheads.
Even if most married couples do not experience the extremes of Amy and Nick, every one will recongise the telltale signs of the stresses and strains of relationships, the petty resentments and irritations that, if allowed to fester, infect everything very quickly. This makes the story both disturbing and compulsive, like a motorway pile-up, and sustains it for 400 pages.
All the hallmarks of success from Flynn's first two books are here: a pacey, emotional narrative; characterisation of the highest order and first class writing.
Gone Girl is a strong candidate for thriller of the year - it's certainly the best I've read in 2012 and it should add to the reputation of Gillian Flynn, who surely now ranks in the highest echelons of the thriller writer world.