Monday 22 January 2018

Secrets and lies but not nearly enough surprises

Crime: Can You Keep a Secret? Karen Perry, Michael Joseph, tpbk, 378 pages, €14.50

Two for the price of one: Paul Perry and Karen Gillece
Two for the price of one: Paul Perry and Karen Gillece
Can You Keep a Secret? by Karen Perry
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

This crime novel opens with 40-year-old garda forensic photographer Lindsey Morgan attending a crime scene outside Borris in Carlow. She remembers it's near Thornbury Hall: an Anglo-Irish country pile that is home to her closest school-friend, Rachel. Partly on a whim and partly some deeper impulse, Lindsey travels out and meets Patrick, Rachel's older brother, for the first time in a quarter-century. He, and the house, seem in a state close to disintegration.

They strike up a romance. Patrick decides to sell Thornbury and, to say goodbye, organises a reunion, inviting Rachel (now in London) and three old pals. Naturally, things go wrong: old secrets and memories resurface, somebody dies, others are in danger.

That all probably sounds familiar if you're a regular crime reader - particularly of 'domestic noir' - and that's the main fault in Can You Keep a Secret? It's the fourth book from Karen Perry, nom de plume of novelist Karen Gillece and poet Paul Perry, whose debut was inventive and distinctive. Unfortunately, this feels quite derivative. (Even that title is uninspired.)

Too much reminded me of too many other, similar books. Character names are that type you always find in these books: Lindsey, Marcus, Hillary, Liv, Claire, Heather, Tim. All very deracinated; this could be any Anglophone country (though there is a Niall).

The sameness of plot detail: manor house, family secrets, murky past, abortion, suicide. A tight-knit group of friends (and has anyone ever reunited the old gang, 25 years on, in real life?). The self-doubting teen narrator and haughty, precocious friend: always reminiscent of Cordelia in Cat's Eye.

And while generally well-written, there's some clumsy exposition, for example: "What that reason was, we may never know. A closely guarded family secret, perhaps." You half-expect to hear portentous piano chords: "Closely guarded family secret, you say? Hmmm…"

There are a few biggish plot twists: one was predictable, one improbable and one (the last) clever, unexpected and did a lot to redeem the story. Not quite enough for me, though you may feel differently. Perry is a decent stylist, it's well put-together and delivers what readers want and expect from this genre. My problem is that I wanted more of a tale of the unexpected.

Darragh McManus's novels include ­Shiver the Whole Night Through

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