Monday 22 April 2019

Fallen Angel - Chris Brookmyre

To new nanny Amanda, the Temple family seem to have it all: the former actress; the famous professor; their three successful grown-up children. But like any family, beneath the smiles and hugs there lurks far darker emotions.

Sixteen years earlier, little Niamh Temple died while they were on holiday in Portugal. Now, as Amanda joins the family for a reunion at their seaside villa, she begins to suspect one of them might be hiding something terrible...

And suspicion is a dangerous thing.

I've been reading Mr. Brookmyre's books for longer than I can to admit to and I particularly like his Jack Parlabane series. I was understandably intrigued when I first heard about Fallen Angel as it didn't sound like a Brookmyre story and I have to say that I was hooked from page one, despite the fact that it touches on some rather disturbing themes.

From the very start of the novel, we know someone has died, but how is his death connected to the motley crew of characters assembled in Portugal? The story centres around Amanda, a Canadian girl, brought over by family friends to nanny for them, and their young son, Arron. No sooner has she arrived then they're off to Portugal for a family holiday. 

Having arrived at the villa Amanda discovers that the owners of the other two neighboring villas are none other than Max Temple, famous debunker, and his wife Celia, an actress who is most well known for starring in a dodgy science-fiction television series. Max has recently died and Celia has gathered the entire family together, for a celebration of Max's life, and this includes Sylvie, their youngest daughter, who has changed her name and is estranged from the rest of the family after the tragedy of losing her baby daughter at this very location. 

Things are tense from the get-go. Brookmyre certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension, and as anyone who has been on holiday with extended family knows, there's plenty of tension to start with. Amanda soon realizes that she has been dropped into the middle of an explosive situation and her naturally curious manner is not likely to win her any friends amongst the Temple clan.

News of another death rocks the villas and this is the trigger needed to start a rollercoaster of revelations to start tumbling out, which is not necessarily going to end well for all. Fallen Angel is a masterpiece in character writing, and as a thriller, it works so well. It's a refreshing change to read a thriller driven mostly by character rather than events, except for the original tragedy. The story is told in two strands, one from 2002 and one from the present, which I'm not always a fan of but in the case of Fallen Angel it's a plus point and only adds to the disquiet and increases the mounting pressure on all involved.

Combine toxic family relationships, tragedy, greed, vanity, strangely appealing unlikeable characters, and a sense of desperation into a gripping, page-turning mystery and the end result is Fallen Angel, one of the most original thrillers I've read in some time. I really hope Chris Brookmyre writes more like this because I loved it! Oh, and for fans of his Parlabane series, there's a wee cameo you might enjoy...

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