Little Black Lies | Sharon Bolton | 2015 | Bantam Press | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book
Almost three years ago, marine biologist Catrin lost her two young sons when they fell to their deaths over a cliff in her best friend Rachel’s car. Rachel had not been in the car and she had taken her eyes off it. The result of her moment’s negligence is devastating for everyone. But Catrin is stricken by more than grief. During these months and years of loss she has been fuelled by thoughts of vengeance and now she is ready to act.
Set in the Falkland Islands during a few momentous days in 1994, Little Black Lies is a captivating thriller, presenting a portrait of both people and islands damaged – by the war a decade before that nobody can forget and by the loss of children. For Catrin’s two boys are not the only children to have been lost. In recent years two small boys have disappeared and now another is missing. The islands are full of places in which a small child might lose himself, the cold sea even more dangerous than the land, inhabited by hungry animal mouths that might claim a child. But three lost boys are harder to explain away. The hunt for the little boy is desperate.
Little Black Lies is an atmospheric and gripping psychological drama from the outset. It is powered by the narratives, one after another, of three distinct individuals – Catrin, Callum (a soldier suffering from his experiences in the Falklands War, islands he’s never been able to leave) and Rachel. It is up to the reader to assess the reliability of each narrator because it is clear that none of the three is thinking with a clear – or innocent – mind.
Each of the three characters is intriguingly drawn and the story, which is strong in its own right, benefits from the three perspectives as we revisit the same events, seeing them with different eyes.
Arguably the strongest character in the novel is actually its setting – the Falkland Islands are described in fascinating detail, capturing the wildness of their nature and the isolation of their inhabitants. With such a small population, it is inevitable that many (if not all) of them are connected. But into the mix you can throw the tourists that float into the islands on cruise ships during the short summer months, including the days in which the novel is set. The islanders may be far from Britain but their affairs are conducted in the public gaze – especially when a child is missing and especially when Catrin does something which draws the scrutiny of the world’s media to her remote home.
Although the location threatens to overshadow the thriller element of Little Black Lies, it doesn’t. The setting and the plot perfectly complement each other. There are twists and they are very well done, led by character and personality, and there is constant mystery and tension – not to mention menace. This is an extremely well-written novel, depicting with such insight and empathy the impact of psychological trauma on lives.
Psychological thrillers featuring alternating unreliable narrators as well as missing children are a popular trend. I would argue that Little Black Lies shows you exactly how it should be done.