Familiar trope makes way for a gripping thriller
It’s a familiar trope: local girl made good returns to the town she escaped 20 years earlier and vowed not to revisit. Eliza Carmody, junior partner in a city law firm, is reluctantly back in beachside Kinsale.
She is not planning to stick around, especially given that in a class-action lawsuit over a bushfire that killed eight people two years ago, she is acting not for her home town but for the power company.
“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.”
But as Eliza’s rental car inches forward, vehicles banked up in the holiday traffic, she witnesses a road rage incident that leaves one man’s life in the balance and another man on the run. And Eliza knows who the second man is. She went to school with him.
Within seven pages Aoife Clifford has subverted the trope and the reader is hooked. The tension is high, the pace rapid and the plot primed to keep the pages turning.
Melbourne-based Clifford had an awardwinning bestseller with her 2016 debut All These Perfect Strangers, a crime novel that also evoked the claustrophobic, secretive world of a small town and its damaging parochialism. In Second Sight she takes the drama even further to create a successful thriller. It becomes much more than the police hunt for Luke Tyrrell, although it is also that, and complicated by the fact that the local police officer, Senior Sergeant Gavin Pawley, is Eliza’s brother-in-law.
He is married to Eliza’s sister Tess, with whom she has a strained relationship. The couple live in what was Eliza and Tess’s family home. Their mother died when Eliza was four. Their father, who was previously the town’s senior police officer, is now in care after a car accident. Eliza, who tells herself she has already said her goodbyes, does not plan to visit. But the one Kinsale childhood friend with whom she remains in contact, pregnant GP Amy Liu, is having none of that. Clifford intersperses the here and now with recollections of New Year’s Eve 1996, when Eliza, Amy and their friend Grace sneaked away to meet three guys on a deserted beach. One of them was Luke Tyrrell.
As Eliza’s involvement with Luke that night is gradually revealed, so too is the life of the road rage victim. The police, while searching for Luke, discover human bones at The Castle, a deserted mansion that is a local landmark. As Eliza thinks back on that New Year’s Eve, she remembers Grace, who fancied Luke, running from the beach, distraught.
Eliza is drawn as a young woman confronted at work by sexism and the glass ceiling. The “do what it takes’’ ethos of the law firm sits uncomfortably with her.
Clifford’s interwoven themes let her tackle significant contemporary issues, including family relationships and misunderstandings and the trauma wrought on a town by bushfire and death. Then there are the secrets both families and small towns can harbour, and the impact of the past on the present. is a writer and critic.