Monday, January 23, 2017

Review of "Little Black Lies" by Sharon Bolton

The book is set in the Falkland Islands and provides a picture of the rocky topography, cool climate, bushy vegetation, and abundant animal life (especially birds and whales) of the region. It seems to be a beautiful but harsh environment, and forms an excellent background for the story.

As the book opens, a three-year-old boy named Archie, who belongs to a tourist family, goes missing during a picnic. He's the third little boy to disappear from the area within the last few years. The police, local residents, and passengers from a cruise ship all search for the child, who is presumed to have wandered off by himself. Though some islanders fear a child abductor/murderer may have snatched the missing kids, the authorities are extremely reluctant to entertain any such notion.

The story is told from the points of view of three people. Catrin: an animal conservationist whose life was torn apart by the accidental death of her two sons a few years ago. Catrin is a shell of her former self and plans retribution against the woman who 'killed' her boys. Callum: a Scotsman who suffers from PTSD due to horrific experiences in the Falkland War. He subsequently moved to the Falklands and, for a time, was Catrin's lover. Rachel: Catrin's former best friend whose carelessness caused the death of Catrin's sons. Her remorse and guilt overwhelm her.

The gripping story grabbed and held my attention as the main characters (as well as an assortment of strong secondary characters) look for little Archie. While this is occurring a couple of hundred whales beach themselves and Catrin has to deal with this emergency as well, a situation that turns out to be extremely difficult. Shortly afterwards, yet another little boy disappears. This last occurrence is too much for the local people and tourists, who become frenzied.

Because the book is structured partly as 'oral diaries' narrated by Catrin, Callum, and Rachel, the reader comes to know each character's thoughts as well as their behavior and actions. This gives insight into why things happened as they did. For Catrin we learn about her children's death, her ruined marriage, and her planned retribution against Rachel. For Callum we find out about the terrible things he endured during the war, how he fell in love with Catrin, and how he's determined to help her now. And Rachel talks about her former friendship with Catrin, her rough relationship with her parents, and her difficulties being a wife and mother after the accident.

I found most of the story to be compelling. I wanted to find out what happened to the missing kids and how the interactions among the various characters would play out. I also thought the depiction of the island's culture - including the lack of privacy, celebratory bonfires and fireworks, and quirky people - was fascinating.

I've seen that other reviewers love the book's climax and ending. I was disappointed with them however. I think the last part of the story is contrived and unbelievable. I also think that some mystery aspects of the story are not resolved in a satisfactory fashion. Nevertheless, this is a compelling, well-written story that's worth reading.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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