Tuesday 11 July 2023

Black Thorn by Sarah Hilary #BlackThorn @sarah_hilary @panmacmillan #BookReview


Blackthorn Ashes was meant to be their forever home. For the first six families moving into the exclusive new housing development, it was a chance to live a peaceful life on the cliffs overlooking the Cornish sea, safe in the knowledge that it had been created just for them.

But six weeks later, paradise is lost. Six people are dead. And Blackthorn Ashes is left abandoned and unfinished, its dark shadows hiding all manner of secrets.

One of its surviving residents, Agnes Gale, is determined to find out the truth about what happened. Even if that truth is deadlier than she could have ever believed possible . . .

Black Thorn by Sarah Hilary is published by Pan Macmillan on 13 July 2023. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

One of the greatest pleasures in reading and reviewing books is discovering an author from their very first book, and following them for years afterwards. Eagerly waiting for their next novel and relishing the opportunity to read it. 

Sarah Hilary has been a firm favourite of mine since 2015 when she introduced readers to DI Marnie Rome. A couple of years ago she published Fragile; a stand alone story far removed from Marnie, but equally as gripping. 

Black Thorn is another stand-alone, and whilst I loved Fragile, I have to say that this one beats it for me. It is a crime story, of that there is no doubt, but it is also a lyrical, evocative and at times disturbing study in family and community relationships. 

The reader is introduced to the families who occupy the first six completed houses on the Blackthorn Ashes development.  The Ashes was sold as pure luxury, a place to escape and to make happy memories. Situated on a cliff in Cornwall, it's not an easy place to get to, but the houses are magnificent.

Despite the jollity of a summer BBQ, attended by all of the families, the reader immediately gets the feeling that something is not quite right. One neighbour is angry, a small girl is injured and Agnes Gale can feel things in the air that disturb her.  

The second chapter moves forward twelve days and all has changed. Blackthorn Ashes has been abandoned. Six people are dead. Agnes and her family are living in a caravan, their lives have changed beyond comprehension and Agnes is determined that the truth of what happened will be uncovered. 

Agnes Gale is autistic. She's twenty-nine years old and has only recently returned to her family. She spent over a decade living in London, but after losing her job and her lover, she had no choice to return. Her brother Christie is just thirteen, he's spent much of his life being treated as the only child and resents Agnes, especially as she has been warning everyone that something is amiss at the Ashes. 

Skipping back and forth, from before abandonment and afterwards, Hilary weaves a captivating and extremely well structured story.  Her own personal experiences have enabled her to create Agnes so well, allowing the reader to see and understand how her mind works so differently to most people, it really is incredibly rich and emotional. 

At the heart of this novel is the story of broken people, and relationships. Long-held secrets are carefully and slowly revealed, adding a tension that pulsates throughout. The development of both the parent-child relationship, and that of Agnes and Christie is complex and multi-layered, with resentment and guilt, but also grief and pain ebbing and flowing in each chapter. 

A crime novel. A psychological thriller; this is both of those, expertly woven and always beautifully prepared. Hilary's use of descriptive prose when talking about the forest that surrounds both the Ashes and the park is second to none and her character creation is sublime and exquisite. 

Highly recommended from me. An author that never puts a foot wrong. 

Sarah Hilary’s debut, Someone Else's Skin, won the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year and was a World Book Night selection, a Richard & Judy Book Club pick, and a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist in the US.
No Other Darkness, the second in the series, was shortlisted for a Barry Award.
Her DI Marnie Rome series continued with Tastes Like Fear, Quieter Than Killing, Come and Find Me, and Never Be Broken.
Black Thorn is her second standalone novel, following Fragile.


Twitter @sarah_hilary

Instagram @sarah_hilary999

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