Lucy Wadham's first novel is set on an unnamed Mediterranean island (Corsica?) populated by ne'er-do-wells, gangsters and petty criminals. Alice Arons, the widow of a wealthy local industrialist, comes to the island with her two small sons to try to sell their house there. Within hours her older son Sam has been kidnapped, and Alice, in her desperation to get him back, enlists both the help of the local police and of the local Mafia boss, Claude 'Coco' Santini. But Santini is as slippery as an eel, and capable of double-crossing anyone - is she a fool to trust him? Meanwhile Antoine Stuart, the melancholy police officer in charge of the case, has fallen hard for Alice... will passion cloud his judgement and lead to recklessness?
As a story of suspense the novel works very well - Wadham keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen to Sam, if Coco will prove to have a heart, and who is really responsible for the kidnapping and all the other crimes on the island. The growing love between Antoine Stuart and Alice Arons is movingly portrayed, and Wadham gives a convincing and chilling portrayal of a society where criminals and crooks rule, and juggles her vast cast of characters very well. However, on an emotional level I didn't find this a satisfying read. The characters were on the whole very one-dimensional, there were way too many 'cardboard cutout villains', Coco Santini was exaggeratedly evil with no psychological motivation, and we never got to know much about Alice (why she'd married so young, whether she worked, whether she'd loved her husband, how she felt about being a widowed young mother). Only a very few characters - Stuart, Coco's wife Liliane and daughter Natalie - were developed in depth. I may be someone who doesn't enjoy pageturning thrillers as much as other fiction, but I felt this novel lacked the richness of characterization that writers like P.D. James or Stieg Larsson bring to thrillers. Wadham's later work (the excellent if very dark 'Castro's Dream', for example) is much stronger in terms of psychology and character portrayal. This provided a pageturning couple of hours (though it's put me off ever visiting Corsica!) but hasn't stayed with me much.
The text of this book is bleached by the sun and encrusted with sand and sea water. And like any story of worth it is the contrasts that highlight the form of the narrative. We only know what we have when we have lost it, and the pure power of a parent's love for a child is most ably demonstrated when that child is gone. This book has been likened to Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard in it's style, but I don't think it really is ; it has a far more European feel to it and whilst it is dark and violent it does not have the nihilism of a dying empire to inspire it. I was thrilled by the tone the plot and the execution and highly recommend this - a good buy ; and good bye.
In any brief review there is always a tendency to simply regurgitate the plot which is a temptation I shall attempt to resist. Attractive widow Alice revisits her late husband's island of Corsica. Within a day her seven-year-old son Sam is kidnapped and the whole story revolves around the attempt to rescue him. Although it is set in sunny Corsica, this is a dark and brooding thriller with far more shadow than light. I have never been there but I do know that Corsica has more than its fair share of gangsters, terrorists, bandits and blood feuds and this novel brilliantly reflects that reality. There is a sad and half-expected twist at the end. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay the author is that if I hadn't spotted her name on the cover, I would really have thought that this taut, tense, rather macho thriller had been written by a man. There is no doubt whatsoever that Lucy Wadham is a born writer.