Fiction: The Amusements by Aingeala Flannery Penguin, 240 pages, paperback €14; e-book £4.99
The pleasures and pains of small-town life have been expertly captured by the likes of William Trevor and Claire Keegan. First-time novelist Aingeala Flannery joins those ranks with a quietly beautiful narrative that unfolds over three decades.
It’s set in Tramore, Co Waterford — a town as celebrated for its amusement arcades as its seaside location — and follows the fortunes of two families. It asks big questions about fate and roads not taken.
We meet Helen Grant when she’s a teenager and dreaming of the bright lights of Dublin. She longs to go to art college with her sophisticated classmate, Stella Swaine, but after a false accusation — from Stella’s mother, no less — her life begins to unravel. While Stella goes on to study in glamorous New York, Helen is left behind to care for her alcoholic father.
The notion that the course of one’s life can be irretrievably altered by one seemingly minor incident is chilling and, in Flannery’s capable hands, all too believable.
The author grew up in Waterford city and spent much of her childhood summers in Tramore. That local knowledge is apparent — the portrait of Tramore is strikingly authentic. Flannery’s characters are very well drawn, as is her understanding of small-town mores and idle gossip. It’s a book that leaves an impression long after the final page.
Thriller: You Can Run by Trevor Wood
Quercus, 400 pages, hardcover €23.79; e-book £4.99
Just a few days shy of her 16th birthday, Ruby Winter’s comfortable if somewhat lonely life in the remote Northumberland village of Coldburn is abruptly turned upside down. Her loving but reclusive father Alex surprisingly admits a stranger, a young soldier, into their house. Intrigued, she tries to eavesdrop on their conversation, but when a fight breaks out she rushes into the kitchen and finds the young man unconscious and bleeding on the floor. He has been stabbed with a kitchen knife.
Her father won’t let her call an ambulance. He tells her to pack a bag as they must run. But as they try to escape, her father is shot and she is chased by one of the soldier’s comrades. She is hidden by Lucas, a village lad she knows but has ignored up till now.
Ruby and Lucas see her wounded father being carted off somewhere in a military-style ambulance and the village is locked down as the streets are barricaded and armed soldiers warn the inhabitants to stay indoors for their own safety. But it soon becomes clear that there isn’t an escaped murderer on the loose, as the apparent soldiers claim. They are searching for someone, and that someone happens to be Ruby. A stunned Ruby wonders if her whole life up to now has been a lie.
Feisty and self-reliant, Ruby is determined to rescue her father and unravel the truth, but realises she must rely on some of Coldburn’s more colourful residents to help her. Trevor Wood has fashioned a rip-roaring, action-packed and nail-bitingly tense thriller set in the wintry rural landscape of Geordie-land and featuring a rogue’s gallery of delightfully off-beat well-realised characters.