Little Black Lies, by Sharon Bolton

>> Saturday, March 05, 2016

TITLE: Little Black Lies
AUTHOR: Sharon Bolton

PAGES: 496
PUBLISHER: Minotaur Books

SETTING: Falkland Islands, 1994
TYPE: Mystery

In such a small community as the Falkland Islands, a missing child is unheard of. In such a dangerous landscape it can only be a terrible tragedy, surely...

When another child goes missing, and then a third, it's no longer possible to believe that their deaths were accidental, and the villagers must admit that there is a murderer among them. Even Catrin Quinn, a damaged woman living a reclusive life after the accidental deaths of her own two sons a few years ago, gets involved in the searches and the speculation.

And suddenly, in this wild and beautiful place that generations have called home, no one feels safe and the hysteria begins to rise.

But three islanders -Catrin, her childhood best friend, Rachel, and her ex-lover Callum- are hiding terrible secrets. And they have two things in common: all three of them are grieving, and none of them trust anyone, not even themselves.

In Little Black Lies, her most shocking and engaging suspense novel to date, Sharon Bolton will keep the reader guessing until the very last page.
I've read Bolton before and liked what I read, but I have to say, I picked this one up almost 100% for the setting. Little Black Lies is set in the Falkland Islands in 1994. Having grown up right next door to Argentina, this is a part of the world that has always intrigued me, particularly since I'm old enough to have some vague memories of the war (I still vividly remember the cover of the Argentinian 'Gente' magazine claiming "We're winning", and when I started school in 1983 people were still talking about the kids from the Falklands who'd studied in my school). So yeah, I one-clicked this one as soon as I read the description.

First of all, I should warn readers that if bad stuff happening to children is a no-go area for you in a book, then you might want to stay away from it. Because there is quite a lot of that.

The book starts right after a child has disappeared. Another child. The third child in a couple of years. One child is a tragedy, two is worrying, but three is downright suspicious. Most of the islanders can't seem to break out of the "that sort of thing simply doesn't happen here” attitude, but it's clear something is going on. But the story is not so much about the disappearance, but about this causing things to come to a head in the relationships between our three main characters: Catrin, Rachel and Callum.

There is a lot going on here, and a lot of history between our characters. It's three years after the death of Catrin's two children, and she hasn't been able to recover at all. She still blames the person responsible for the accident that killed them, her then-best friend Rachel. In fact, we find out very early that she's preparing to take her revenge on her on the anniversary of the death. The disappearance and all that happens as a result throw those plans into turmoil. There's also Callum, a former paratrooper who fought in the war and decided to stay. He and Catrin have a history, but after her children's death she withdrew from him completely.

We see the action from the points of view of these three characters in turn. I was a bit doubtful at first (I guess I was really invested in Catrin and her worldview and was jarred by the POV suddenly moving to someone else), but it really works wonderfully to keep the reader guessing and mistrusting each of the three without resorting to fully unreliably narrator (that can feel awfully like cheating to me). I had several theories, but all of them had to be discarded. I was so proud of them, too, because it felt like I was getting one over Bolton, but in hindsight, she played me like a fiddle. I was cleverly and proudly deducing my way into exactly the wrong theories she wanted me to believe. When the conclusion came, it was completely satisfying and made complete sense.

The characters were as good as the mystery. They felt real, like flawed but still decent human beings, and their relationships felt right for the context and the subject matter. There is a bit of romance but it feels appropriate, not easy when a book is as dark as this one.

And the other element I loved was the setting. It was vivid and I felt it had a huge influence on the plot and relationships. This story couldn't just have been set anywhere else. It couldn't even have been set in any other small, insular community, not when that community wouldn't have had the memory of a war quite so close, or that feeling of being British and yet so far away from Britain. I haven't been to the Falklands, so obviously I can't say whether the setting is realistic, but it felt plausible, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

And there was a final little bonus in the ending. I don’t want to give it away, but I was thinking “Oh, this is much too happy for such a dark book", and then bam! We get a little, almost throwaway thing that was just the right touch and made me go "ohhhhh". It was really well done.

MY GRADE: I started out thinking a B+, but really, I can't see one thing wrong with it, so an A- it is!


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