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The Breakdown

B.A. Paris

The Breakdown

B.A. Paris

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The Breakdown Summary

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The Breakdown (2017), a psychological thriller by British author B.A. Paris, follows schoolteacher Cassandra “Cass” Anderson as she is drawn into the mystery surrounding the death of an acquaintance, Jane Walters. Complicating Cass’s struggle are apparent memory lapses which might be a sign of early-onset dementia. Paris’s second novel received mixed reviews, with Kirkus Reviews summarizing it as “paranoid and claustrophobic but tries too many tricks for its own good.”

The novel opens at a party for the teachers at Cass’s school, celebrating the end of the school year. She is anxious to get home to her husband, Matthew, who is in bed with a migraine. On the phone, he makes her promise not to take a shortcut through the woods that border their secluded cottage at Nook’s Corner—but she does.

On the road through the woods, Cass spots a stopped car, with a woman in the driver’s seat. Nervous about stopping and getting out of the car, Cass feels duty-bound to offer the woman help, so she decides to pull over ahead of the car. The stranded driver does nothing to indicate that she needs help, so after a few moments, Cass continues on her way home.



The next day, Cass learns that a lone female driver was murdered in the woods. She is overcome with guilt, which deepens when she learns that the victim was Jane Walters, a woman whom Cass had recently met for the first time and liked.

Further compounding Cass’s fragile state of mind is a terrible anxiety. Her late mother suffered from early-onset dementia and lately, Cass has begun to experience small memory lapses, causing her to fear that she may suffer her mother’s fate. One day, her best friend, Rachel, is annoyed to find that Cass has not picked up a present for a mutual friend, which she and Rachel had agreed that she would do. Cass does not remember making this arrangement.

Then Cass begins receiving nuisance phone calls: the caller won’t speak when she answers.



Cass fears that the calls have to do with the murder, but she cannot share this fear with anyone, because she has kept secret that she saw Jane Walters on the night of her murder (although she has made an anonymous call to the police).

Worried about Cass’s memory loss, Matthew finally insists that she see a doctor. Cass agrees, but the appointment becomes tense when Cass realizes that the doctor and Matthew have already discussed her case. The doctor prescribes pills, which Cass is reluctant to take. Matthew pressures her to take them, finally persuading her to do so.

The pills make her sleepy, and soon she is sleeping through whole days. By the time Matthew comes home in the evenings, she is awake, and on weekends she doesn’t take them, but when Matthew is not around, she sleeps. Nevertheless, she has more pills than she needs, so she begins to stockpile spare medication.



Matthew becomes impatient with her memory loss, sleepiness, and possible addiction to sleeping pills, and they begin to fight. After a particularly rough patch, Cass wakes up feeling ill. She calls an ambulance. At the hospital, she is diagnosed as having taken an overdose. She denies it, but testing finds that she has taken a large number of her spare pills, and she wonders if she might have taken an overdose and forgotten about it.

Shaken, Cass decides to retake control of her life. She visits Jane’s husband and admits to him that she saw Jane on the night of her murder. He reassures her that she is not to blame for Jane’s death. He also persuades her that her nuisance caller is probably not the murderer: it’s more likely to be someone she knows. The next time she receives a nuisance call, she tells the caller off.

Cass arranges to meet Rachel. Arriving early, she finds Rachel deep in conversation with John, a fellow teacher who had expressed a romantic interest in Cass prior to her marriage.



As Cass is about to leave after her meeting with Rachel, a young girl from another table gives Cass a phone, telling her that it is Rachel’s. This seems unlikely to Cass, so to confirm it, she calls the first number in the called list. She gets Matthew’s answerphone.

Finding text messages between Rachel and Matthew, Cass works out that they are responsible for the nuisance calls, and also for manipulating her to make her think she is losing her memory. She realizes that Rachel and Matthew are having an affair.

Once she has established that her suspicions are true, Cass gets her revenge. She implicates Rachel and Matthew in Jane’s murder, and the police discover that Rachel was indeed Jane’s killer. Rachel confesses that Jane knew about the affair and intended to tell Cass. Rachel’s plan was to get Rachel committed to a mental institution so that Matthew and Rachel could keep her money. Rachel felt entitled to this money because of the role she played in supporting Cass during her mother’s last illness. The truth sets Cass free.
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