Fiction – paperback; Simon & Schuster, 272 pages; 2020.
Second Sight, by Australian author Aoife Clifford, is a well-plotted crime thriller set in a small coastal town.
It focuses on two separate, possibly linked, crimes: the disappearance of a teenage girl more than 20 years earlier and the death of an Irish tourist punched by a local man who was once friends with the missing teen. It is structured around two intertwined narratives — one set in the present day told in the first person, the other set in the past (New Year’s Eve, 1996, to be precise) told in the third person.
In the first storyline, lawyer Eliza Carmody reluctantly returns to her home town of Kinsale, because she’s been hired to defend the electricity company blamed for a devastating bush fire that killed eight people two years earlier.
An image of a burnt-out car comes into my mind. The smoke had been so thick she’d driven it off the road and lurched into a ditch, unable to move, like a boat stuck on a reef. The fire had done the rest. The first day I started working on the case, I looked at the list of the dead, eight of them. I read their names and traced my one degree of separation from each of them — school, family friends, vaguely remembered faces from the beach or shops — and then put the paper in my filing cabinet. Sometimes the only way to cope is to separate out bits of your life and keep them in solitary confinement.
On the day Eliza returns “home” to meet an expert as part of her research for the court case, she witnesses a violent altercation in the street which results in the death of an Irish tourist working in the local pub. Because she knows the man who landed the fatal king punch, Eliza is inextricably drawn back into a past — and a community — she’s long tried to forget.
The second storyline focuses on the mystery of what happened to Eliza’s friend Grace, who disappeared, never to be seen again, on New Year’s Eve, 1996. When bones are discovered at a historic homestead near town, Eliza becomes convinced they must belong to her friend…
Typical psychological thriller
Second Sight is typical psychological thriller territory, fast-paced and well-plotted, but with a literary bent.
Clifford paints an authentic portrait of a small town still reeling from a fatal bushfire and her depiction of local characters — the publican turned prospective politician, the quiet loner thought to be the arsonist, the compassionate nurses caring for people they have known all their lives — feel believable. She really captures what it is like to grow up in these kinds of places — the drinking culture, for instance, and the school ties you can never escape.
And Eliza, with her discoloured eyes, strained relationship with her older sister, and a beloved policeman father now living out his days in a nursing home, is well drawn. She’s flawed and feisty, prone to making unwise decisions and behaving in a not particularly professional manner. (Admittedly, I didn’t like her very much.)
But I had some issues with the novel. There are a couple of ludicrous plot twists, some of the heart-hammering moments are a bit overdone, and there’s too much sex in it. (There’s a rape scene, however, which is graphic and shocking, but sensitively handled.)
Second Sight is good, escapist fiction. It brims with small-town claustrophobia, treachery and scandal, and has a genuinely surprising denouement that makes all that furious page-turning worth it in the end.
This novel, first published in Australia in 2018 and republished with a new cover this month, will be published in the UK on 27 January. It was published by Pegasus in the US last year.
This is my 1st book for #AWW2020