Sharon Bolton seems to revel in depicting small, often isolated communities in which ordinary people hide dark secrets. She has previously written compellingly cloying tales of suspense set in several worrisome English villages as well as one set in the Shetland isles. In LITTLE BLACK LIES she takes us to Stanley on the Falkland Islands, nearly 500km east of the closest land mass. It is the mid-90’s – a decade or so after the war – and several children have gone missing in recent years. Locals seem to have accepted that the disappearances are unrelated and accidental but readers are forced to confront the notion something more sinister is going on.
The story is told as a kind of three act relay. First we meet Catrin Quinn: conservation worker and grief-stricken mother. Three years ago her two young sons died in a horrifying accident that resulted from her best friend’s temporary inattentiveness. The subsequent trauma undoubtedly played a huge role in her losing the baby she was carrying at the time. These days Catrin is barely functioning and, far from drawing closer to forgiveness with passing time, revenge is occupying her thoughts. At a key moment, plot-wise, Catrin hands the storytelling baton to Callum Murray an ex-soldier who fought in the Falklands War and is still suffering as a result of the things he did and saw then. For the final act Callum makes way for Rachel, Catrin’s former best friend who is searching for a redemption that may never come, no matter what she is prepared to give up to achieve it.
If you’re looking for a procedural story about missing children you need to go elsewhere because this is book isn’t really about missing children at all (and yes for fans of Wittertainment I do mean this in the same way that Jaws isn’t really about sharks). It’s about the three central characters – ordinary people all of them – coping – or not – with the awful things that happen to and around them. These are not bad people doing bad things, or even – really – good people doing bad things. These are good people to whom bad shit has happened. Although each person appears in all sections of the book it is through their respective first-hand accounts of events past and present that we learn most about what makes each one tick. This kind of storytelling can be a bit of a train wreck (I’m thinking of this book for example) but Bolton has done a superb job of showing how the same events can look so very different depending on whose perspective things are seen from and tempting readers’ sympathies to pass from one character to the next as each one takes on the central role.
That’s not to say there isn’t a ripper of a story going on here as well. It’s a nail biter on more than one occasion with all the twists and turns that are the inevitable result of no one having a complete picture. And – as always – Bolton’s setting is wonderfully depicted. The remoteness of the islands, the slow recovery from the war and the way that small populations behave are all brought to life very vividly. Several reviews I’ve read were displeased with one particularly gruesome, and in some ways tangential scene, but I thought it was well placed as it helped show how life is in such places. Even in the days before mass bullying by social media became the norm it was easy for people to become outraged about things they know little about and Bolton demonstrates this very well here.
I listened to the audio version of this book which had three terrific narrators who really helped deliver the sense that the storytelling was passing from one person to the next. I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes the format. In fact my only criticism of the book would have been that I was felling disappointed by the way the ending was heading – it was just a bit too happy – but then there was a final dark twist I had failed to predict so even on that front the book delivers. Great stuff.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Lucy Price-Lewis, Kenny Blythe & Antonia Beamish
Publisher Random House Audio 
Length 11 hours 34 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
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