Three children on a camping trip in Kenya meet another two little girls on the banks of a river. Mixing friendship and competition, as well as an unacknowledged rage, they devise a game that ends with a scream. The mothers come running and, while it might not be entirely clear how the tragedy occurred, one mother is adamant that her boys, Nick and Luke, along with Katie, the daughter of her best friend, must guard the shocking secret from the world. Thirty years later, Nick and Katie meet again back in Dublin, following Luke’s sudden disappearance. Over the next few weeks, they’re forced to confront their memories of their childhood trauma, and the damage the cover-up has caused.
I received my copy as part of the CB book group and, as it’s crime, it’s not one I’d have chosen for myself. It’s hard to review on two counts: having also written a novel about the impact of a childhood secret, I couldn’t help thinking about my own writing process whenever I felt irritated in the early chapters when the secret seemed to be dangled before my eyes like a present I wasn’t allowed to unwrap; the criticisms I have are probably more about the genre than the novel itself. While I could forgive the withholding, as my readers seem to have forgiven me, I felt the demands of the crime genre for blood and weapons, as well as the threatening showdown in some out of an off-the-way place, detracted from the psychological issues that interest me more.
Because of the online book group, I was able to ask the author (who, incidentally is two people, Karen Gillece and Paul Perry) why it was written as crime. This is Karen’s reply:
When Paul and I first started writing together, we had no idea what genre we would end up writing for. Indeed, some people have asked us whether the books fit comfortably within the crime genre or not. After all, they are not police procedurals, nor is there a high body count. Having said that, there is a crime at the heart of the novel, and I think that tonally they fit within the genre as there is a pervading air of threat and a mystery to be solved.
I'm really glad you like Sally's perspective - for me, she was the most interesting person to write. And what a situation to find yourself in! How torn you would be as a mother - the instinct to protect your child battling against the horror at what he has done. It's a defining moment in anyone's life, but in protecting her boys, she knowingly and coldheartedly destroys another person's life … I think that Sally's decision to lie in order to cover up is pure instinct. But once it is done, it sets things in motion that she could never foresee.
Given the popularity of crime fiction, I can’t blame the publisher who wants to position their authors there. But I’m not sure I’d classify an act by a small child, whatever the consequences, as a crime. And, as a recent post on Isabel Costello’s literary sofa testifies, many readers also appreciate a “quiet” book. I hope we can continue to have both. What are your thoughts on genre? Does it help or hinder your discovery of the books you’d like to read?