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SCelticartre insisted that the celebrated line from his 1944 play Huis Clos (No Exit), “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” was forever misinterpreted, but the idea that hell is other people has stuck, despite the protestations of the Great Existentialist. Some, like Jo Spain in her latest novel Six Wicked Reasons, would suggest – to mix and match poets – that Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell could be condensed into an overpowering tenth – Family.

SWRThe Lattimer family, patriarch Frazer, sons James, Adam and Ryan, daughters Ellen, Kate and Clíodhna – Clio – have assembled at the family home in south east Ireland overlooking the waters of Spanish Cove in the Irish Sea, so called because of its earliest recorded casualties – sailors from a Spanish galleon blown adrift from the Armada and then shattered on the hidden rocks.

Something has gone badly wrong. With the family gathered aboard a luxury yacht moored just off-shore, and apparently partying, Frazer Lattimer has been hauled from the water, as dead as any Spanish sailor, with a mortal wound to his head. Now his children are huddled on shore, wrapped in space blankets, being interrogated by a member of the local Garda Síochána. And, of course, one of them must be the killer. Mustn’t they?

RCeltic lettereaders new to Jo Spain’s novels will welcome the apparently straightforward back-stories of Frazer Lattimer’s children, and their motives for wanting him dead. Those who know that the author is The Mistress of Misdirection will suspect, correctly, that this is only the start. But, for the record, I give you the Lattimer children. James is a big media name, with TV screenwriting and production credits on his CV. Lives in Dublin, of course with ex-model wife and step daughter. Adam – now there’s a tale. He now lives abroad, making money for fun, but he disappeared ten years earlier, broke the heart of his late mother Kathleen, and has now re-appeared, equally mysteriously, and it is his return ‘from the dead’ which has prompted the reunion. Ryan, alas poor Ryan. Drug addicted as a teenager, he has somehow survived industrial intakes of pharmaceuticals, and now lives in Italy, just about getting by as an odd-job man.

ECeltic letterllen Lattimer is the female equivalent of the Prodigal Son’s brother. Remember, the bloke who stayed at home while his brother was out on the town, giving it all away? Ellen has stayed at home, cleaning, cooking, dusting – and paying for the upkeep of the house. She is prim, joyless, and what Private Eye used to call “tight-lipped and ashen-faced.” Kate, on the other hand, has spread her wings and learned to fly. Having overcome a teenage weight problem which caused her to be known locally as King Kong, she is now svelte, lean and lovely. Also, married to a filthy rich Chinese businessman with a chain of luxury hotels. Clio, though has been in the wars. Summoned from a dingy bedsit in downtown New York to attend the family gathering, she is the most volatile of the children, the antithesis of the line from the old hymn which described Our Lord as “slow to chide and swift to bless.”

You could write what Jo Spain doesn’t know about plotting on the back of a postage stamp and still have room to inscribe the Lord’s Prayer, but she also has an ear for dialogue that is purely musical in its accuracy. We have the six Lattimer siblings, their father in flashback, plus his recently acquired Polish fiancée; to complete the line-up add Rob, an intriguing local policeman, and Danny, the grizzled mariner whose platonic love for Kathleen Lattimer broke his heart and yet made it sing. Ten totally different people, yet when each of them speaks, they are totally credible down to every word, every syllable and every inflection.

ACeltic letters an amateur wordsmith I can only guess at Jo Spain’s writing technique; her prose is so assured, so fluent and has that sense of flair that cannot, surely, be the result only of endless hours of editing. No matter how long you spend polishing a piece of coal, you will never transform it into a gem stone. Six Wicked Reasons is a diamond, multi-faceted and reflecting both the light and the darkness of the human soul. It is published by Quercus and is out on 16th January.

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