Little Black Lies - S.J. Bolton

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 flawed yet 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 sons 3 years ago. She still eats, sleeps & goes to work but is a shell of the woman she was 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. In 2 days, life as she knows it will end.

In the meantime a little boy vacationing with his family goes missing, the third in 2 years.

There are good & bad aspects of living in any small town. Everyone knows everyone's business. And in times of trouble, neighbours band together to provide support. There's also a naivete based on the belief that people you know can't possibly be capable of horrific acts. But as one character 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 believable how quickly a mob mentality infects a group looking for someone to blame. 

 

The book is told in 3 parts, each with a different narrator. Just when you think you have a grip on what happened & who is responsible, you read the next account of events through another's eyes & start to question what you thought you knew. The first two parts end abruptly at crucial points & you may find yourself yelling at the pages in frustration. The tension is palpable & 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 that maybe you rushed to judgement just as quickly as some of the islanders. 

The three main characters are complex & well portrayed. Each has experienced the pain of loss in some form & 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 bad & each is guilty of something. As the story progresses & your grasp of their history 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 & relentless pounding of the ocean lend a chill & quiet sense of menace to the background. The result is a growing unease as the story unfolds. With 3 plausible versions of events to choose from, it's not til the final few pages that we learn the truth.

It's a profound & at times, difficult read that examines some of the darker sides of human nature & will suck you in from the get-go.

Set aside a few hours before you start. With expert pacing & heightened suspense, this is a book you'll resent having to put down. Highly recommend.