A Flaw in the Design – Nathan Oates

Published By: Viper
Pages: 304
Released On: 23/03/2023

The cleverest psychopaths hide in plain sight.

Gil is living a quiet life as a creative writing professor in a bucolic Vermont town, when he receives some shocking news: His sister and her husband have been killed in a car accident, and their only son is coming to live with him and his family.

Gil and his wife are apprehensive about taking in seventeen-year-old Matthew. Yes, he has just lost both his parents, but they haven’t seen him in seven years—and the last time the families were together, Matthew lured their young daughter into a terrifying, life-threatening situation. Since that incident, Gil has been estranged from his sister and her flashy, wealthy banker husband. 

Now Matthew is their charge, living under their roof.

The boy seems charming, smart, and urbane, if strangely unaffected by his parents’ deaths. Gil hopes they can put the past behind them, though he’s surprised when Matthew signs up for his creative writing class. Then Matthew begins turning in chilling stories about the imagined deaths of Gil’s family and his own parents. Bewildered and panicked, Gil ultimately decides he must take matters into his own hands—before life imitates art.


Thanks to NetGalley and Viper for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

This started off quite slow and I did start to wonder if it would be my kind of thing. But in the end I think the slow start was needed. We needed to get to know this family and it’s past. We needed to know about Matthew and what his part was to play. But I’d say by about 1/3 of the way through, it starts to pick up.

It’s not this full on gory scary thriller. It’s soft than that. It’s that on-edge thrill, when you’re waiting and waiting for something to jump out at you. And whilst I don’t believe it ever got to the satisfying climax, it is in the waiting that you feel the thrill.

The three main characters – Molly, the mother, and her daughters Chloe and Ingrid – didn’t quite hit the mark with me. Perfectly acceptable characters, but they held no substance. I was expecting more resistance from them, but they just sort of plodded on in the background.

Even Matthew, to a certain degree, was pushed to the background. He was a well written villain, cold and calculated, luring you into a false sense of security, but I felt more could have been made of him. His background is mentioned but never fully explored.

The stand out character is definitely Gil. I liked this battle he had with himself. It’s slow and steady and you can see descent into madness, this withdrawal into himself.

I felt the focus was unbalanced. There’s a lot of focus on things such as Girl’s youth and career, and his and Molly’s relationship, but it felt unbalanced considering the blurb is all about Matthew and his evil tendencies towards the family. But this isn’t used enough. I was expecting more of that, with some background in for context, but it more felt like a literary excavation, rather than a thriller.

It plods along and then suddenly it comes to an end and you’re sat there a bit bemused, There’s a fair bit of ambiguity. You are left to decide who and what to believe, which is quite nice. I’m often on the fence about writing decision. I quite like being able to make my decisions, but with a thriller, I want the author to finish the story for me, otherwise you’re left a bit in the dark and unsatisfied.

I definitely felt it got better as it went along. Whilst I enjoyed reading it, I wasn’t enamoured with the first half, it just felt too safe. I just wanted more. More of everything. It’s a bit too tepid.

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