Sharon Bolton, formerly S.J. Bolton, has slowly but surely become one of my favourite crime authors over the last few years due to her Lacey Flint series, which has become one of my favourites. Her latest novel Little Black Lies is a standalone set on the remote Falkland Isles where it seems like from the very beginning we know just who is going to kill someone and just who is going to get killed, yet as with all of Sharon’s novels that would be far to simple, and from the off we know this is going to be a tale with many, many twists.
I believe just about anyone can kill in the right circumstances, given enough motivation. The question is, am I there yet? I think I must be. Because lately, it seems, I’ve been thinking of little else.
And with these words Caitlin, the first of our narrators opens up the start of Little Black Lies. What has lead to her thoughts on murder, we very soon discover, is the death of her children who were left in the back of her friend’s car which in a moment of carelessness tragically falls off a cliff and into the ocean around the small Falkland island they have lived on all their lives. Indeed they were best friends until that tragic event almost three years ago. Yet while Caitrin is plotting the murder of her former friend a young boy goes missing, something which has happened before over the years, and soon everyone on the island is hunting for a child and their abductor or possible killer.
I have to say that I think Little Black Lies might just be the most complexly crafted, yet brilliant executed (if you will excuse the pun) of her novels that I have read. Not only do we have the duo plots of Caitrin’s murderous planning and the missing boy which make for very tense and page turning fodder, Bolton throws some extra twists and turns as we go. Firstly there is the fact that the novel is written over three parts and set within just six days (pacey). Initially we are in Catrin’s head as she plots the unthinkable, we then go into the head of her ex lover Callum who fought in the Falklands War and has some form of post traumatic stress resulting in blackouts, finally we have Rachel who clearly has depression and who spends most of her time riding and talking to her horses… who talk back.
This of course is genius because we have what everyone? Yes, three unreliable narrators, pretty much a feast if you love an unreliable narrator as much as I do. You also have three very different versions of the same series of events, yet when stitched all together (as each one reveals that little something extra, or a little additional facet) reveal something close to the truth. We think, though with Bolton we can never be sure and she does something so clever on the last page it utterly chilled me. I will say no more on that.
What is also brilliant is that whilst we have these three characters at the forefront, we have a host of characters who could quite easily be the potential killer/abductor, if one of these three isn’t. This isn’t quite a locked room mystery obviously yet on a remote island there are only so many people it could be, it is either one of the villagers or a tourist from the cruise ship. Even as the islanders start to remember the cases of other missing children they would far blame an outsider than one of their own who they have lived with for years, especially as some of those fought for their island in the conflict.
Pouring coffee from the jug on the table is the head teacher of the school, a man called Simon Savidge who became something of a hero in what, only half jokingly, is called the Falkland Island’s Resistance. In the early stages of the Argentinean occupation, while the islanders were waiting for the British Task Force to arrive, Simon made contact with the groups via a forbidden radio, keeping them informed about Argentine movements on the ground.
Oh did I mention there is a war veteran/hero called Simon Savidge, just like me (the name not the war hero)? Well there is, look how simply and cleverly I dropped that huge literal name drop in. As it is, the fictional Simon Savidge of the Falklands is the father of the senior detective Josh, who we soon learn is a bit crap at his job. These additional characters come fully form and offer an interesting and fully realised bunch of suspects; The Savidge’s, Caitrin’s ex husband Ben, Mel the transgender cook… I could go on.
Bolton also uses these characters to add another angle/layer to the book, the background of the Falklands. Through both characters like Simon and particularly with Callum, along with other stories which weave in and out over the six days as we meet the islanders, we are given snapshots of the conflict and some of the politics behind it as well as a sense of what the Falklands is like today. If this is all beginning to sound very, very dark (and in parts it is exceptionally so, if you love whales one bit will be very difficult to read, I struggled) and rather chilling and creepy (which it also is especially on some of the wrecked boats, yes a book set on boats) there are also some lighter and occasionally incredibly funny moments. Rachel’s conversations with her talking horse being some of them, no really…
‘Come on you grumpy old bugger. We’ve got work to do.’ I flick the bolt on his door. He kicks it open himself and walks out into the yard, his coat gleaming in the sunshine. Officially, Bee would be described as a black horse, but that barely does him justice. I’ve counted over a dozen shades in his coat, from deepest black to rich red brown.
‘Any of those brats around?’ He looks disdainfully for the kids he despises. ‘I’m peckish.’
‘Grandma’s on the premises.’ I drop my voice at this point. There are windows open in the house and you never know where she might be lurking. ‘Plenty of meat on that ass.’
‘Where the fuck are we going now?’ I’m leading him to the trailer and he’s not that keen. ‘We’ve been out once.’
‘Estancia. You like it there.’
‘Fuck I do. Blue clay sticks on hooves for weeks.’
I have always said that an author could never write a book that was set on a boat or had talking horses in it that I would like, damn you Sharon Bolton as that challenge has been met and I thought Little Black Lies was a corker of a thriller – and not just because it broke my book bugbears, which I promise I didn’t thrown down to Sharon as a gauntlet, ha. It is really one of those thrillers that have everything. It has brilliantly unreliable, complex and occasionally rather unlikeable characters at its dark heart; many layers of plots and history; and so many twists and turns, which keep going right until the very last page. Seriously, your jaw might just drop, mine did – easily my thriller of the year so far.
Who else has read Little Black Lies and what did you make of it? Have you read the Lacey Flint series and what about Sharon’s previous standalone novels which I am now itching to get to? As always I would love your thoughts.