Friday, 25 September 2015

Review: LITTLE BLACK LIES by Sharon Bolton

Publisher: Minotaur Books, Macmillan
Rating: 4.5*

After finishing this, I don’t know whether I need a nap or a stiff drink. If you’ve read the author’s Lacey Flint series, you know she’s a master of creating dark, gripping stories with complex and sympathetic characters. That continues in this stand alone novel.The promotional blurb gives you the gist of the story but there is so much more to this richly atmospheric book set in a small, isolated community on the Falkland Islands.

When we meet Catrin, it’s clear she was broken by the loss of her two young sons three years ago. She still eats, sleeps and goes to work but is just a shell of the woman she used to be with room for only one emotion. Hate. As the anniversary of the boys’ death approaches, she puts the finishing touches on her plan for retribution. The book begins to count down the next two days. In the meantime, a little boy goes missing, the 3rd in two years.

There are good and bad aspects to living in any small town. Everyone knows everyone’s business. And in times of trouble, neighbours band together to help. There’s also a naiveté based on the belief that people you know can’t possibly be capable of horrific acts. But as one of the characters notes, fear changes a community. Residents begin to eye each other with doubt & when one of their own falls under suspicion, it’s scary & all too realistic how quickly a mob mentality can infect a group of people looking to lay blame.

The book is told in three parts, each with a different narrator. Just when you think you have a grip on what happened and who is responsible, you read the next account of events through a different set of eyes and start to question what you thought you knew. The first two parts end abruptly at crucial moments and you may find yourself yelling at the pages in frustration. The tension is palpable and you’re acutely aware of the passage of time as the clock ticks down on Catrin’s plan. It will mess with your head & make you realize you may have rushed to judgement just as quickly as some of the islanders.

The three main characters are well drawn and complex. Each has experienced the pain of loss in some form and you can feel their grief as they stumble through the aftermath of a horrible event, trying to figure out how to go on living or if they even want to. As in real life, no one is all good or all bad and each is guilty of something. As the story progresses and your grasp of the situation expands, you start to wonder if maybe there are no true villains here, only victims.

The setting itself is an important character. Descriptions of the isolation, cold rock, creeping fog and relentless pounding of the ocean lend a chill and quiet sense of menace to the background. The result is a growing unease as the story unfolds. With three plausible versions of events to choose from, it’s not ’til the final few pages that we learn the truth.

It’s a profound and at times, difficult read that examines some of the darker aspects of human nature and will suck you in from the get-go. Set aside a few hours before you start. With expert pacing and heightened suspense, this is a book you’ll resent having to put down. Highly recommend.

Bookstore Links:  |  |  B&N  |  Waterstones  |  WH Smith

Reviewed for MCT by Sandy S.

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