Written by Karen Perry — The author Karen Perry is, in fact, a crime-writing double act hoping to follow the success of Nicci French. Paul Perry and Karen Gillece are a poet and novelist who teamed up to pen psychological thrillers about familiy guilt and secrets. The Irish duo’s suspenseful novels share a publisher with Nicci French and they look set to enjoy similar sales too.
Their debut, The Boy That Never Was, was a hit that probably benefited from being published around the same time as BBC series The Missing. Only We Know is also a novel about a crime involving children, and in this case a terrible incident from the past has repercussions three decades later. The story opens in 1982 in Kenya, where two families are holidaying. Sally Yates, a mother of two boys, is resting in the sun while they swim in the water. Her husband works in the country and they’re currently playing host to a friend and her daughter. When Sally hears screaming, she runs to the river to discover a child under the water.
The novel then switches to 2013 with alternate chapters narrated by Nick, the younger son, and his childhood friend Katie, who was the girl holidaying with the Yates family in 1982. He’s a jazz pianist who ended up living in Nairobi, she is a hard-drinking journalist in Dublin. They were reacquainted as students in the city and, while there was an obvious connection, time has passed and he is about to marry someone else. Both of them are still troubled by the horror of what happened 30 years ago, though Perry and Gillece withhold the details of what exactly occurred for a few hundred pages (we can make a few guesses).
Luke, the headstrong older brother, has made a success as an entrepreneur behind a couple of pubs, a restaurant and a country house, and he’s weathered Ireland’s financial crash. When he crops up on a TV show to make an impassioned speech about the country’s values, there’s suddenly talk of Luke entering politics. His comments seem to have some connection to the past and the charity his mother established in Nairobi, which is still overseen by the priest who knew the family back in the 80s. Despite his golden boy image, Luke is prone to depression and his sudden disappearance draws Nick and Katie back together.
For the first 100 pages, Only We Know feels like a pretty formulaic thriller. Katie’s a hard-bitten journalist of the sort that often crops up in crime novels, while her secret from the past is stirred up by someone going to the trouble of sending her a typically cryptic and creepy message – a dead bird. The authors do create suspense, though at times their chapter cliffhangers feel like they aren’t following that Golden Age dictum of playing fair with the reader.
However, once the action moves from Dublin to Nairobi in the present day, the story settles down and the plot kicks in. The landscape of the Masssai Mara is certainly more atmospheric and threatening than Dublin’s Wicklow hills. A tense scene in a wildlife park is one of the most compelling few pages I’ve read in the past year. As the showdown approaches, it becomes clear the authors’ real strength is gripping prose that is hugely readable. Don’t be surprised if you devour Only We Know in a single sitting.
Yet I came away hoping for something more from this novel. Perhaps because it’s written in such unfussy, dialogue-heavy prose, any sentence that sets a key plot point in place jumps out and while the twists are satisfying enough, they’re never very surprising. If they could combine their vivid and dramatic scenes with a little more psychological depth, Karen Perry could be another great crime-writing duo.
To discover more psychological thrillers click here. Only We Know is available now for Kindle and from 2 July in print.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars