This is the latest from Karen Gillece and Paul Perry, the successful Dublin writing partnership. How two people can write one novel remains a mystery to me but, my goodness, Gilece and Perry do the business. Who contributes what may well remain a trade secret, but if you have any misgivings about the effectiveness of collaborations, ditch them now. This narrative is seamless, gripping, intensely creepy, and an object lesson in how to to convince the reader that they know what is going on, while cooking up surprise after surprise and twist on twist. Eventually, a rather sinister rabbit is pulled out of a bloodstained hat.
Lindsey Morgan is our narrator. She is a photographer with the Irish police, the Garda Síochána, and her frequent visits to gory crime scenes mean that she must don a cloak of cold objectivity as she looks through her camera at the damage people do one another. The distance between the person behind the viewfinder and the scene captured by the lens is a key motif in the story, as you will discover when you read the book.
Lindsey finished her education at an independent school, and it was there that she met the players in this drama. There’s Niall, Marcus and Hilary but, most significantly we have Rachel Bagenal and her older brother Patrick. Rachel and Patrick are the children of what used to be called landed gentry. Their home is Thornbury, a substantial mansion in the countryside.
We have two separate timelines here. First, we have the present day, where Patrick Bagenal, living alone in the decaying house, invites his old school friends for a final weekend at Thornbury. The house has deteriorated beyond Patrick’s ability to maintain it, and so he has been forced to sell. His parents, Peter and Heather, are both dead. The second timeline takes us back to the early 1990s. The youngsters are all still at school, but enjoy being invited for weekends at Thornbury. It is one such visit – for Patrick’s lavish eighteenth birthday party – which ends in a tragedy which will resonate down the years.
As with all reunions, the adults appraise each other and remember how they used to be, and how they have changed. Marcus has embraced modern acceptance of homosexuality and is comfortably gay, while Niall has made a success of his business but failed in the marriage game. Hilary has metamorphosed from the archetypal fat girl into a waif-like lifestyle coach. Patrick retains his boyish charm, but has grey hairs because of the demands imposed on him by being the sole tenant of Thornbury. Rachel? Rachel was always the force of nature, the woman among the teenagers, the assured femme fatale among the gauche schoolgirls. Now, she returns from a life in London to preside over a weekend which will self destruct in a clatter of betrayal, guilt, recrimination and violence.
This is an outrageously brilliant thriller, and we are pretty much hit with every shot in the stylistic locker. We have a classic convergence of past and present, where convergence becomes a collision, and the collision explodes into a catastrophe. We have the timeless element of a crumbling old house, complete with secrets, unexplained noises, and the shades of the dead – some of them malevolent, but some of them wronged. Thornbury is every bit as haunted as Daphne du Maurier’s Manderley. We may not have a Mrs Danvers, but we certainly do have a Rebecca.
Throughout the book, I felt an over-arching sense of regret for lost innocence, but the authors are far too canny to make that straightforward as they shine a torch into all the little guilty corners in the lives of the characters. And, the novel’s tour de force, the narrator herself. Victim? Catalyst for tragedy? Innocent observer? As the saying goes, if I told you, I would have to kill you. You can avoid further bloodshed by buying your own copy of Can You Keep A Secret, which is published by Penguin.
For more top quality Irish crime fiction, check out our reviews of: