Tuesday, 29 November 2016

"Girl Unknown" Karen Perry

Girl Unknown

This is a great premise for a thriller - a tried and tested idea but one that never fails to appeal to readers. I also loved the cover - it's so eye-catching. Admittedly it does rather follow the form of popular psychological thrillers these days but its a form that works - I saw it and knew I wanted to read it! And the strap line for the book is just so inciting.....

A deadly cuckoo in the nest....

Professor David Connolly's life changes the day that Zoe Barry walks into his office claiming to be his daughter. David welcomes her into their home but it his wife Caroline and his children, Robbie and Holly, who find this new girl, who says she is their sister, more difficult to accept and deal with.

Can we trust Zoe? Is she who she says she is? Why has she turned up now and what exactly is she after? Can David and Caroline's marriage survive their secrets from the past that Zoe's arrival is forcing them to confront?

"Girl Unknown" is a beautifully written, tense and taut thriller. The emotional depth of the characters is expressed with polished prose and in words that sit heavy on the page, weighing down the paper with the enormity and complexity of this family's situation; their choices, their decision and their actions. The author conveys their concerns, thoughts and reactions through comments, revelations and observations, striking a perfect balance between an intelligent character driven novel and a tense, page turning thriller.

It is an absorbing novel told through the voices of David and Caroline which alternate in each chapter.  From the outset there are smatterings of clues indicating something more sinister or destructive is coming. David begins by reminiscing of a past relationship, before he met Caroline yet despite it ending nearly two decades ago, his emotional commitment to this woman, Linda, is very obvious.

"....this love affair - I had no idea how much it meant to me - it, too, would be laid to rest. We both knew it...."

From the beginning of Caroline's narrative there is also lots of darker comments that also increase the suspense and tension for what is about to happen:

"....conscious that I was about to be swept up by something more powerful than I understood, something dangerous and beyond my control." 

"I didn't know she existed. But that was when I first felt her shadow fall over me. The first time I felt the ripples of a new presence within my home, like a dye entering water, already changing its chemistry." 

Perry's imagery and metaphors are quite stunning and the beauty of the prose often caught me by surprise. It's almost as if the story line and Zoe's arrival become secondary. For me, it was the interaction between David and Caroline which was compelling and what gripped me. For me, I was most engrossed in the empathetic exploration of this married couple and I loved so many of the passages where Perry's writing was bewitching. For example there is a great passage about being in a long term relationship and how "rot can set it" and a "stone becomes dislodged". Then again when Caroline muses on a marriage repairing itself after a crisis:

"[it] resolved itself slowly, seeping away, like water finding a drain. I have learned that there are several steps- significant markers - along the path to reconciliation. ....At times you're just playing at being married to each other. At other times the pieces fit naturally into place, giving you hope." 

Perry's writing can by lyrical and full of poetic images but then it can also be more threatening and blunt:

"She was a thief, come to steal from me all that I loved. I knew it then: I would have to guard myself against her." 

I seemed to relate to Caroline more, feeling more sympathy towards her as it is she who is more affected and threatened by the arrival of Zoe and what it reveals about David's past. I marked more quotes from her sections as she had a more mesmerising reflective voice which again allowed me to relish in Perry's prose.

"I thought of these strands of DNA and imagined them to be threads escaping their spools. She was a thread that ran through the fabric of our family.....woven into a complex tapestry. Love, trust, fidelity: these were the strands that bound us together."

"Families don't come apart because a thread has loosened. The break, when it comes, is sharp, brutal. It takes ripping and hacking to tear the tapestry apart." 

But what I also liked about Caroline is that she too is fallible, at fault and with her own mistakes she has tried to bury in the past. She is not a victim, nor is she a villain. Perhaps the success of this story is that it is about relatable, believable people. The plot is not far fetched but it is as terrifying as any of the crime thrillers on the market at the moment.

Not that David isn't reflective, considered and thoughtful. Not that he doesn't begin to feel the ripples from Zoe's presence and the way she behaves once welcomed into their family. He too comes to realise some profound changes that are affecting them all and also his role as a father. He realises that for Holly, he is "becoming a different father from the one she had known and relied upon until then." Most interesting was his response when asked what History meant and he recalls a famous quote:

"History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves and soldiers, mostly fools."

For the discerning reader this could almost capture the main theme of the book. This story is about the history of each character, how they have decided to deal with it, remember it, inform the way they behave today. It's about whether their histories are real, true, significant.

Zoe herself remains quite elusive and "unknown". Cleverly revealed largely through the way other people perceive her and rarely given a chance to tell the reader her version of events, she remains distanced from the reader. However, there are enough clues to ensure we are not sympathetic towards her. As she says about herself when describing the attributes of a Pisces:

"Pisces are the Chameleons of the Zodiac......very adaptable. And our inner lies are important to us. Our secrets and dreams." 

There is something deliciously dark about her. The reader watches as she appears to silently, secretly, invisibly inflict unhappiness, confusion and distress upon David's family. And there is always that question of whether she is trustworthy, whether she can be believed or whether she is scapegoated by Caroline, Robbie and Holly. How do we know who to trust and who to believe?

But as the story continues there are more and more things that don't stack up. Things that can be explained away but linger with a heavy scent of doubt. Things that concern the reader. Ultimately, this is someone who David knows so little about, someone he has welcomed back due to a nostalgic yearning for a first love. And all of these characters have secrets, have made mistakes, have shown themselves to be distrustful, jealous and prepared to seek revenge. Are these characters strong enough to listen to each other? To trust each other? To really see what is in front of them?

I thought the last line of the story was epic. It holds the absolute weight of consequence, responsibility, love, knowledge and guilt in its twelve short words.

"Girl Unknown" reminded me of "An Inspector Calls" and "A  Casual Vacancy". It will appeal to anyone who enjoys a thriller about families, marriages, lost children and where the consequences of one decision have the most devastating and chilling results. This is a fascinating exploration of a dysfunctional family - it's not just about Zoe and who or what she is, but as much about what she triggers and how she affects each member in the Connolly's family.

My only little quibble would be that I felt the title almost detracts from the high quality prose and well written, accomplished characterisation and storyline. Although still a fitting title, I just think it might be slightly underselling itself and perhaps missing out on reaching some of its potential audience.

This is the second book I have read by Karen Perry and it will not be the last. I am a fan.

"Girl Unknown" will be published by Penguin Random House on 1st December 2016.

Karen Perry is the pen name of crime writing duo Paul Perry and Karen Gillece. They both live in Dublin, Ireland. You can follow them on @KarenPerryBooks. They have also written Sunday Times bestselling titles "The Boy That Never Was" and "Only We Know".

If you enjoyed my review then please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)

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