Berry’s (Under the Harrow, 2016) second thriller explores the effects of a brutal crime on the family of the alleged perpetrator nearly 30 years later.
Claire’s father, Lord Spenser, notorious for being one of the highest-ranking members of British society to be accused of murder, disappeared 26 years ago, after Claire’s mother and nanny were both attacked. The police contact her when there is a sighting or a lead, but so far, these have all turned out to be false. Driven by her need for closure and her concern for her opium-addicted brother, Claire befriends the daughter of her father’s best friend under false pretenses so she can be invited to the family estate and conduct her own investigation. Claire’s first-person narrative alternates with a third-person account of her parents’ early courtship and marriage and Claire’s own childhood memories leading up to the murder. Berry is an expert at slow pacing, letting the characters’ tension gradually build to a boiling point, but that’s also a drawback. The mystery, and the characters, seems to lack true passion. By the time the climax comes around, the level of action and violence contradicts the tone of the rest of the novel. She does have a talent for setting, and the emphasis on the insulation of the arrogant, if declining, aristocracy resonates as a larger commentary on British society. The most fascinating side of the novel, implied but not openly developed, is that Claire’s obsession with her father leads her to make some pretty shady choices of her own, and she strongly believes that the end justifies the means. She’s not quite an unreliable narrator, but those patches of darkness in her character do add an extra layer that could have been explored more deeply.
A competent psychological mystery that lacks greater human resonance.