🙂 🙂 😐
It’s three years since Catrin’s two sons were killed in a tragic accident – the result of a moment of carelessness by her best friend, Rachel. Catrin can’t forgive her and as the anniversary of the deaths approaches it seems as if she might be about to commit some drastic action. But meantime a toddler has gone missing – a rare occurrence in the sparsely populated Falklands Islands, but not unique. Two other children have disappeared in recent years and some people are beginning to wonder if they are linked. Despite her troubled state of mind, Catrin gets drawn into the search for the little boy…
This book gets off to a brilliant start. Bolton is always readable – a born storyteller. Her description of the harsh, bleak environment of the Falklands ten years after the war between Britain and Argentina creates an atmosphere ripe for tales of dread. And her characterisation of Catrin is great – this damaged, grief-stricken mother haunted by her dead sons and burning with the desire for revenge. As the book begins, Catrin is out in a boat at night and Bolton wonderfully contrasts the beauty of the stars reflecting in the water with the dangers of the unpredictable sea and the cold cruelty of Catrin’s thoughts. A truly atmospheric beginning.
Unfortunately, a great beginning doesn’t always make a great book. First off, I am heartily tired of every second crime book focussing on the murder and/or abuse of children. By all means, if an author is making a serious point about some aspect of society or the justice system, but not when it’s just for entertainment, as so many of them are, including this one. It’s not a subject that I find remotely entertaining. And as usual with these trends each new book feels it has to up the ante in order to harrow us just a little bit more than the last. I find it all a little sickening. So I admit that Bolton was always going to have to work extra hard to win me over. But, even putting my prejudice to one side, there are a couple of other aspects that left me feeling this book doesn’t reach Bolton’s usual standards.
The book is told in three voices – first Catrin’s, then Callum’s and finally Rachel’s. Callum is an ex-soldier who fought in the Falklands war and has now returned to live in the islands to try to overcome his demons. His voice and character didn’t ring true for me at all, I’m afraid. While it’s obviously true that some soldiers are left mentally scarred by their experiences, it’s become a stereotype now to have every ex-serviceman struggling with PTSD and so haunted by his experiences he is incapable of functioning normally. And I felt we had enough misery to contend with in Catrin’s grief without the need to relive Callum’s war experiences too. Especially since, in the third part, we also have to relive Rachel’s guilt along with her.
But it’s less that than the way Bolton portrays Callum’s maleness that bothers me. He thinks about women’s bodies all the time, seeing each purely in terms of her sexual attractiveness or lack of it, and fantasises about ‘shagging’ every woman he meets. He makes sexist remarks. He swears a lot. But the reader is supposed to be on his side, and to believe that intelligent women find him attractive. It all seemed a very lazy way to create a ‘male’ voice – again a stereotype and a pretty negative one at that.
Rachel’s voice didn’t fare much better for me either. Wracked with guilt, she is apparently dysfunctional to the point of borderline neglect of her children, but seems too self-aware of her own failings – almost wryly humorous about them at times. I found her unconvincing.
It’s pretty tasteless too, not only about the children, but there’s a particularly graphic and unnecessary whale scene that’s not for the squeamish either, and feels as if it’s only in there to harrow the reader still further – as if dead children aren’t enough. And the plot, which starts out brilliantly, eventually spirals downwards to a degree that stretches credulity so far as to become almost ridiculous. One unbelievable event follows another, then another, and so on, with the eventual equally unbelievable solution tacked on almost as an afterthought. The climax of the investigation in fact reads almost like a humorous farce – totally out of place given the subject matter. The book is still very readable for the most part – the quality and flow of Bolton’s writing, the sense of place and the first section in Catrin’s voice are all excellent, hence my rather generous 2½-star rating. But ultimately I found the flaws in this one outweighed its strengths.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Transworld.