For Sara Keane, it was supposed to be a second chance. A new country. A new house. A new beginning with her husband Damien.
Then came the knock on the door.
Elderly Mary Jackson can’t understand why Sara and her husband are living in her home. She remembers the fire, and the house burning down. But she also remembers the children. The children who need her, whom she must protect.
‘The children will find you,’ she tells Sara, because Mary knows she needs help too. Sara soon becomes obsessed with what happened in that house nearly sixty years ago – the tragic, bloody night her husband never intended for her to discover. And Mary – silent for six decades – is finally ready to tell her story . . .
If you like a chilling story, with supernatural elements then this may be a read you would enjoy. Throughout the whole of the book whether it was sixties years earlier or the present there was a running theme, that of control. Men controlling women. But throughout you find yourself completely immersed in the story I was up until 5.30 am needing to finish this I needed to know how things would end.
From the opening I wanted to know what had happened in the house known as The Ashes, it had been called that because it was surrounded by ash trees.
The story is told in two timelines sixty years ago and the present. Set in Northern Ireland. Told mainly from the points of view of Sara and Mary, with a few chapters from Esther’s point of view. Sara met architect Damien Keane, at university in Bath, he had swept her off her feet with his charm, love and attention.After Sara graduates and becomes a child protection officer, they get married, but things begin to change as Damien starts to show his true colours, her friends had warned Sara, about his jealousy, and controlling manipulative nature but she didn’t listen, until she found herself isolated with no one. It was then she had a breakdown. Which played out perfectly for Damien as he moved them to Northern Ireland. A fresh start he said. Francie Keane, Damien’s father and a violent ex con. Had bought them a house, in a remote area, Sara should be grateful of his fathers generosity. The house was currently being done up and extended after a fire had damaged it. But now she finds herself with no friends, no car, no money except for a small amount he may give her.
Sixty years earlier The Ashes was a working farm run by a father Tam, and his two sons George and Ivan. Mary has only ever lived in the house, she has no idea who her mummy is, there are two women mummy Joy and mummy Noreen, equally she has no idea which of the men is her daddy, so they are all called daddy. Mary doesn’t know how old she is, the women are locked in the basement, when not required to cook, clean and perform other duties for the men, so far Mary has been protected from some duties. The cellar is always cold and damp. The women are not to look at the men unless addressed, as long as they are polite and don’t give any cheek they are ok, all of them have received beatings at one stage or another. Some beatings worse than others.
Sara and Damien have only just moved into the house, Sara is up early when there is a loud banging at the front door when she opens it she finds an old lady standing there, in her nightdress and dressing gown, the woman walks into the house looking round, then turns on Sara shouting at her asking her what she is doing in her house, she starts asking where the children are, what has she done with the children? Sara is confused, then Damien appears, Sara wants go take the woman to the hospital but Damien refuses, what does he know of this woman? Sara demands to know who she is, the woman turns around and says she is Mary. That this is her house.
As the story unfolds you get to know more of what has happened over the six decades, electrician Tony brings some old newspaper clippings his mother had kept. Damien is furious that Sara won’t let things go. Sara visits Mary to learn more and to check that she is ok, it had been said that Mary had caused the fire in her home, but Mary says it wasn’t her that she knows someone else did it as she had heard a loud bump which had woke her up, and a car leaving. Who would want the place burnt down? Who would gain the most from it? She also told Sara about the children, hiding in the walls, floor and corners. Sara had already felt she had seen children but each time she looks back there is no one there. She has also seen the ghost of a woman, are these spirits trying to tell her something.
I loved seeing the friendship between Mary and Sara as she goes to visit her at the care home she lives in. This is at times a disturbing story but equally you can’t not continue reading, it’s gripping, and engrossing.
Six decades of violent abuse committed by the most monstrous of men, who need to control and abuse their victims, their behaviour is deeply distressing. How many other women and children had perished there. When you think sixty years ago women had less rights than they do now, their choices were limited, Joy and Noreen had been brought their at the ages of 14/15 they tried to protect each other as much as possible, they were very protective of Mary. Sara in the present is in a similar position as those women from years earlier, although not to the extent that they had, but enough that you really wanted her to stand up to Damien.
This may not be the read for everyone with the abuse, violence and theme. It is a brilliant thriller that is believable and brilliantly written. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I would like to thank @ZaffreBooks for an ARC of this book, all thoughts and opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stuart Neville’s debut novel, The Twelve (Published in the US as The Ghosts of Belfast), won the Mystery/Thriller category of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was picked as one of the top crime novels of 2009 by both the New York Times and the LA Times. He has been shortlisted for various awards, including the MWA Edgar, CWA Dagger, Thekstons Old Peculier Novel of the Year, Barry, Macavity, Dilys awards, as well as the Irish Book Awards Crime Novel of the Yer.
He has since published nine more critically acclaimed books, two of which were under the pen name Haylen Beck, as well as a short story collection, The Traveller and Other stories.