Light on suspense and heavy on creepy-crawlies, this debut finds a man desperate to cover up his crime and protect his brother when he might be the one who needs protecting.
Growing up in 1950s London, Jonathan Maguire knew that his brother, Roger, older by six years, was different. Though Roger’s condition is never named, it’s intimated that he may be on the autism spectrum. As an adolescent, Roger developed an interest in bugs that grew into an obsession when his parents allowed him to build the titular insect farm in the family’s garden shed. The insect farm provides companionship for Roger when his brother is in school and, later, when Jonathan meets the love of his life, flautist Harriet Chalfont. When he and Harriet depart for university in Newcastle, Jonathan assumes that he’ll eventually inherit Roger-care duties from his parents, but that day comes sooner than expected after a tragedy. Now Roger’s sole caregiver, Jonathan—who marries Harriet in a quickie civil ceremony before she returns to school—struggles to adjust to his new life. Roger lives in his own world, populated by an increasingly complex array of insects, as Jonathan tries to maintain a long-distance marriage. When the unthinkable happens soon after, Jonathan must cover his tracks and also ensure that Roger knows nothing of the terrible crime Jonathan committed (or did he?). But Jonathan soon realizes that he may have underestimated his brother all these years.
Prebble creates, and just as quickly deflates, suspenseful moments, and the plot twists are so clearly telegraphed that few readers will be surprised by the outcome.