Tuesday 15 October 2019

Suspicions run wild in fresh, vibrant 'whodunit'

Chick-lit author takes readers to the edge with her fifth novel, writes Siobhán Hegarty

Zoe miller.jpg
Zoe miller.jpg

Siobhan Hegarty

In pagan times, and in some Muslim countries to this day, an adulteress can be stoned to death – or even burned at the stake – for her sexual transgressions. In the world of Irish chick lit in 2013 the scarlet woman falls (or is pushed) off a cliff to lie trapped between life and death for hours.

It's enough to make anyone grateful to be in a happy, monogamous relationship and not in any immediate risk of meeting a painful and sticky end.

Set in Dublin and Rome, Zoe Miller's fifth novel opens as a young jogger spots a human frame lying prone and broken at the base of the cliffs at Howth, Co Dublin. It's 7.15am on St Patrick's Day and Juliet Jordan has been lying on the cold rock face since just after 7pm the night before. A slipstream of images of her life have been flashing past her, like a movie on fast forward.

Just as the discovery shatters the jogger's peaceful morning run, so Juliet's 'accident' is set to splinter the lives of those closest to her – her friends since childhood, sisters Rebecca and Rose, and Rose's ambitious husband Matthew.

Having grown up in the small Dublin village of Ballymalin, adulthood has brought privilege and success to all four, to the extent that Matthew and Juliet are both potential candidates in the forthcoming presidential election.

This page-turner revolves around who – if anyone – pushed Juliet. The author casts the net of suspicion wide, with a surprising number of the book's central characters unveiled as having strong motives for wanting a judge's daughter out of the way. The friends have their rattling skeletons and, with the election looming, there's already a determined journalist who has heard the rattle and is poking energetically in their closets.

Miller employs different narrative modes – first using flashbacks of Juliet's life, and then alternating between the first person (Rebecca's troubled daughter Danielle) and the third person, and this works extremely well in this novel with its complex storyline.

In writing this fresh and vibrant 'whodunit', Miller has built on her previous triumphs and has shouted from the rooftops that she will broker no compromise with anyone, least of all her readers.

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