by Claire McGowan
Two young women. Charlotte works in public relations, promoting snack food; she is due to marry her live-in boyfriend Dan in a week and everyone is running around worrying about flowers and travel insurance and cutlery for the head table.
Keisha goes to work at night in an old people’s home, wiping tables and bottoms; she is struggling to get her daughter back from social services where she has been placed to get away from her violent father, Keisha’s partner.
So far, this sounds suspiciously like chick lit.
But then there is confusion when a dodgy character gets killed in a club and Dan finds himself remanded in custody as the chief suspect.
Charlotte has to cope with the sudden change in her wedding plans and the mysterious evaporation of those she thought were her friends. Keisha, on the other hand, has a weird feeling that her vicious partner may have had something to do with the murder.
It is a simple story and the author keeps the number of characters small, so that the reader can get to know them. The story is told in sections, each headlined by the person whose actions are being described and this includes the detective investigating the killing.
At this stage in many crime novels, you expect further violence, more deaths to add complications or to hit home the evil of the bad guys. But the author keeps to the two main characters, gradually introducing some of their families in small parts and avoiding the kind of back story that is so annoying in detective writing by people like Agatha Christie.
The story works best as an account of an unlikely alliance between two young women, separated by caste and colour as those are still found in today’s Britain. It threatens at times to break into friendship, but the barriers are too high and each reverts quickly to type. The conclusion is completely believable and is not the kind that would be expected if this were chick lit.
Claire McGowan, we are told, grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland and now lives in London where she is “Director of the Crime Writer’s (sic) Association”. This is her first book; she moves the action along seamlessly in a completely satisfying read.
What is it about Northern Ireland that seems to have resulted in a sudden flowering of writing talent?