The Cellar by Minette Walters

Description: From the internationally bestselling, award-winning crime writer Minette Walters, The Cellar is a harrowing, compulsively readable novel about a family of African immigrants, the Songolis, and the dark secret they keep hidden in the depths of their seemingly respectable British home.

On the day Mr. and Mrs. Songoli’s young son fails to come home from school, fourteen-year-old Muna’s fortunes change for the better. Until then, her bedroom was a dank windowless cellar, her activities confined to cooking and cleaning. Over the years, she had grown used to being abused by the Songoli family—to being their slave.

Now that Scotland Yard has swarmed the Songoli house to investigate the disappearance of the son, Muna is given a real bedroom, real clothing, and treated, at least nominally, as a daughter. But her world remains confined. She is not allowed to go outside, doesn’t know how to read or write, and cannot speak English. At least that’s what the Songolis believe. Before long it becomes clear that young Muna is far cleverer—and her plans more terrifying—than the Songolis, or anyone else, can ever imagine.

The Cellar by Minette Walters is one of the best books I’ve read/listened to in the last year. Powerful, intense and devastating.

Muna is stolen from an orphanage by an immigrant family and kept imprisoned in a home in the heart of London with a dark basement as a bedroom. Muna is a slave to the family who visits horrible abuse on her, physical, mental and sexual. Until the day the Songoli’s youngest son goes missing and the family is forced to treat Muna as a daughter, at least in front of the police. Every misfortune that befalls the Songoli family makes Muna’s life better.

Muna’s “family” tells her that she is brain-damaged so often that they come to believe it themselves. But Muna is clever and observant and most of all patient. The story is narrated in a matter of fact tone that makes the evil that is perpetrated all the more devastating. Every  time you are tempted to feel sorry for the Songoli family, you are reminded that they are despicable and beyond redemption.

Investigation by Scotland Yard as well as the presence of a nosy neighbor prevent any return to the way things were for the Songoli family. Muna’s cautious, observant, patient and terrifying. The fact that she is no more or less than the family has made her is tragic and thrilling. This story will have you riveted from the opening line to the last and will linger with you for a long time. One of the best and most powerful books I’ve read in a long time.

The narration of the audiobook by Justine Eyre is phenomenal. She perfectly captures the tone of the book and drives home every thrilling and horrifying moment. An award-worthy performance. Highly recommend.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

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