Title: Little Secrets
Author: Anna Snoekstra
Price: Rs. 399
For the jaded city dweller, a small-town spell a breath of much-needed respite and downtime. Then the vacation would end, and you would return home. But protagonist, Rose Blakey is home at Colmstock, and she loves it even lesser than an accidental visitor, and she will try all actions possible to escape from her tragic, desperate hometown. That is in short, the gist of Anna Snoekstra’s second book. Too simple you think? You think wrong.
Having been nominated in 2017 for a Ned Kelly Award for her first thriller novel, ‘Only Daughter’, Anna is a magician at weaving words to relocate you in situ to feel the dead town in the grip of joblessness, worry, grime and heat leaving its natives sweaty and tired, even as they have nowhere to go. She establishes Rose’s helpless at the lack of opportunities and her mother’s perpetual fatigue from slogging at the poultry mill; her inability to ask her stepfather to not render her homeless; her love for her three younger siblings, as a proxy mother and their only real guardian.
Meanwhile, Rose has worked at an almost sure shot internship at The Sage Review and is waiting with packed suitcases to bid adieu to Colmstock. You smile when Rose after trudging through the grubby streets to her despised barkeep post at Eamon’s Tavern Hotel, unfailingly inspires her best (rather only) friend Mia to aspire for more. Ambitious as she is, Rose is unhappy with just fetching drinks and dodging the tacky flirtations of Senior Sergeant Frank Ghirardello. On the other hand, Mia, saddled with a disabled father and an uncertain future, is convinced she could live her life out here and attempts to make it easier in any manner possible.
From the word go, the narrative is very atmospheric and casts a sense of looming gloom. The build-up takes its frustratingly own time, till an unsolved case of fire in the courthouse that kills a child, a tragedy that is huge for a town, so small comes by. This tragedy is quickly followed by fear, as somebody begins leaving dolls on porches that could easily serve as doppelgangers of the kids living at those homes. Obviously, parents are frightened, yet the police find it unusual, but not unsafe. Once, The Sage Review turns down her application, Rose makes it her business to conduct her own investigations regarding these incidents with a not-too-noble intent. Her cub reporter nose sniffs at the second opportunity that has come her way to run out of town. And there is a lot to investigate, meaning more characters (a worried old friend, now a single mommy whose daughter has received one of these dolls, a stranger in a town that does not get any visitors shacked up at the tavern, and some nocturnal paper plate masked gangs) and plots and sub-plots, and slower pace. Soon, Rose sends a story about her initial inquiries to another newspaper, gets commissioned to follow it to the end and then move away with a job. What she had not bargained for is the skeletons that spill out from various closets as a result and what all that could lead to.
The author’s uncanny eye for detail records the gritty yet inconsistent characters of the town people ably. Even Rose falls from her pedestal with her selfish conduct and joins the rank of those who let the bleakness of their lives overlook their humanity. While this dark mood of the novel smacks of the noire genre, I keenly felt the lack of any notable upstanding character in the book. Without any, it becomes as hard to connect with the story as is required for it to be great.
As said earlier, the twists in the tale are way are too many and that may have slowed down the pace. But there are disappointments galore still. Thrillers have to have compelling mysteries and large enough secrets. The biggest twist reveal works out to be a complete non-starter, therefore a total upset for me. So, while I will gift this book to a couple of friends who love thrillers (misery loves company, you know), I will skip adding this little secret to my private collection.