I’m not an avid thriller reader as regular visitors here will know but last year one did find its way onto my books of the year list – Annemarie Neary’s Siren, notable for its sharp, pithy writing and smart psychological insights. Her new novel opens in Goa, a world away from Siren’s Northern Irish setting, where two children look up from playing on a beach to find that neither their father nor their mother is in sight.
Sophie and William have taken their kids off to Goa to live in a commune. Adored by four-year-old Sparrow – Row for short – Sophie is a vibrant character, beautiful, flirtatious and free-spirited. When the couple disappears, their friend Eddie steps in until William’s sister takes the children back to London. By then eight-year-old Jess has appointed herself her brother’s protector. While Jess tries her best to settle into a conventional middle-class life, Row is sent to boarding school. Several decades later, Jess is a lawyer living with her husband and baby daughter in an expensive, beautifully decorated fortress of a house close by to where she was brought up while Row spends his time following leads, convinced that his mother is still alive. When a sighting takes him to Curramona where his mother once lived, he confronts her old friend Mags whose suggestion that Sophie might still be alive, keeping herself close to Jess, has devastating consequences.
Like Siren, The Orphans is very much a psychological thriller, exploring the effects of childhood trauma which ripple through into adulthood. Jess is tightly wound, always in control yet desperate enough for safety and security to make a bad marriage. In contrast, Row leads a rackety life, always searching for his mother, heedless of risk to himself and others. Neary’s writing is as sharp and vivid as I remembered it. Her narrative slips easily from Jess’ perspective to Row’s and back again, spilling small details of the puzzle. When the resolution comes it’s pleasingly open, avoiding easy explanations. The novel felt less taut than Siren if it’s a straightforward white-knuckle ride you’re after but if you’re a fan of the psychological thriller there’s plenty here to keep your attention.