I’m not a thriller kind of gal – well only the televised kind, usually with a Scandiland backdrop – but the setting of Annemarie Neary’s debut and the fact that I was still hauling myself out of my flu-induced reading slump before going on holiday made me reach for it. It’s the story of Róisín, brought face to face with the past she’s been trying to bury for more than twenty years when she sees the man who dragged her into the Troubles in Belfast looking set to become leader of his political party.
Siren opens with the incident that will set the seal on the rest of Róisín’s life: the murder of a soldier – a ‘legitimate target’ in Lonergan’s parlance – who she has unwittingly helped to lure into a trap. Mousey and shy, Róisín is flattered when she’s picked out by the brash, sophisticated new girl in her class who invites her on a night out, unaware that she’s being used. When Dolores’ face appears as a photofit on the front pages of the newspapers after the atrocity, Róisín is terrified that she’ll be identified too but no one remembers the nondescript friend dancing at the discotheque. Soon Lonergan comes calling, demanding another job but this time offering a way out once it’s done. Before she makes her escape, Róisín is witness to another atrocity and it is in the hope of doing justice for this that she takes herself off to Lamb Island, decades later, where Lonergan has a house from which he conducts his dodgy business dealings. An ill-judged, drunken email sent late one night before she left New York has alerted him to her plans and there’s a reception committee: Theo the Dutchman – all silky charm – and Boyle the creepy voyeur, only too willing to keep an eye on Róisín for Lonergan.
From its superbly dramatic opening, Siren had me in its grip. Neary takes her time revealing Róisín’s past, leaking small details into her narrative and occasionally bringing her readers up short. Róisín is cleverly drawn, her teenage naiveté making her the perfect prey for Lonergan, as is Boyle with his sinister references to the previous occupant of Róisín’s rented bungalow. Neary’s writing is sharp and clean, often vivid in its intensity, coupled with an astute psychological insight. When I was reading it I was reminded a little of Lionel Shriver’s Ordinary Decent Criminals, published long before We Need to Talk about Kevin brought her fame but, for me, a much better book. Obviously, Siren’s ending is out-of-bounds as far as this review’s concerned but it’s a satisfying one. Altogether a smart, stylish piece of writing – far pithier than either Attica Locke’s Pleasantville or S J Bolton’s Second Life, both recent ventures into thriller territory for me, and all the better for it. I’ll be interested to see what Neary comes up with next.