A “Guardian” Crime And Thriller Book Of The Year, “Our Fathers” by Rebecca Wait comes highly recommended.
The old saying goes that you can’t tell a book by its cover, but that isn’t quite the case, in this instance.
On the cover is a stunningly atmospheric image of a Scottish island – turquoise sea and white sand, partly in sun, partly in shade, but with a dark, lowering sky. It gives the immediate feeling of heaviness, of waiting for a storm to break.
It couldn’t be more apt.
So much needs to be said
The story begins by going back some years and introducing us to a happy, young family – school-age brothers Nicky and Tommy, baby Beth and mum, Katrina, with dad, John, working away in the background.
When the boys don’t turn up for school one morning, their school teacher has an uneasy feeling and asks her husband to pop round, just to check all’s well. A shocking scene awaits him – without warning, John has shot and killed his wife, daughter and one son, before turning the gun on himself.
We don’t dwell on the scene, but move on to the present day. Out of the blue, the family’s surviving son has returned to the island. His uncle, Malcolm – his father’s brother – welcomes him into his home, as he did in the days following the tragedy.
Only this time, Malcolm’s wife, Heather, isn’t there, as she died some years previously.
So much needs to be said, but where to begin? So much to process, but how?
It’s a masterclass in suspense, and also in writing strong characters.
No one could have predicted what happened
Tommy’s sudden return to the island is a shock for the other islanders, too – bringing back troubling memories, and feelings of guilt. No one could have predicted what happened, they say, and yet…surely, there must have been signs? Is it really possible that no one could have seen them?
We look at how one act can echo through the years; a ripple effect. And ask – can you truly ever know anyone else? Fiona McKenzie, the family’s neighbour at the time of the tragedy, reflects that no one ever really knows what goes on behind closed doors.
Can Tommy come to terms with his grief, and his anger? And can anyone help him understand the question on everyone’s lips: “why?”.
The feeling of unease in the community deepens and becomes almost tangible as we journey towards the truth of what really happened that day, and a shocking secret is finally revealed.
For more book reviews from the “Friend” team, click here.