When I scheduled my reviews for February, I KNEW I had to start the month with the promising imprint Viper Books and their very first publication. I was lucky to read this novel a few weeks ago, and I can’t think of a better read to celebrate a fresh month of bookish greatness.
Title: A Famished Heart
Author: Nicola White
Publisher: Viper Books
Date of publication: 27 February 2020
Format read: Advance copy
The Macnamara sisters hadn’t been seen for months before anyone noticed. It was Father Timoney who finally broke down the door, who saw what had become of them. Berenice was sitting in her armchair, surrounded by religious tracts. Rosaleen had crawled under her own bed, her face frozen in terror. Both had starved themselves to death.
Francesca Macnamara returns to Dublin after decades in the US, to find her family in ruins. Meanwhile, Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine are convinced that there is more to the deaths than suicide. Because what little evidence there is, shows that someone was watching the sisters die…
Oh my Goodness, how do I review this one?
Viper Books hits the ground running with this first publication! A Famished Heart smells of novelty and intrigue. I was as happy as a kid on Christmas day when I opened my copy, ready to be transported away from home for a few hours.
The journey was no disappointment. I was expecting a good read; I was rewarded with a striking and evocative story laced with questions of faith, guilt, and that little pinch of I-don’t-know-what that makes me want to grab my copy again and brush my fingers on the pages.
A Famished Heart belongs to the literary crime fiction in my opinion. No, the author doesn’t drag you all the way up to a path where you have to check the dictionary to make sure you understand the prose. What I mean by literary crime is the captivating blend of normal life stories enhanced by a spectacular narration which allows you to be in the moment, and the painstaking look at police work through the lens of realism and humanity. The devil is in the details and Nicola White knows it all too well! Her pen is descriptive yet light, and the reading is simply delicious.
There is no beating around the bush. The opening gives you a place, a date, and a dead body. Nothing is rushed, the discoveries, the scene, the work. I was led through all stages as if I were visiting the place myself, but instead of standing on the outside, the writing permitted me to grab the nuances of the events through the viewpoints of several characters.
Hello Father. You discovered the McNamara sisters and gave me a hard time. I am cautious around the church. I spent many hours learning about Catholicism and rules sitting on a hard bench. The Ireland setting gave me the impression that the church was almost like a coat keeping everyone warm, whether you felt cold or not. The importance of religion is clear, yet the author pinpoints the good, the bad, and the ugly in a balanced way. I found that having a priest meet the sisters after their departure from life, as well as involving faith throughout the book was an ingenious key element in the plot, a strong thread to pull at to get a better understanding of whatever fate had in store for the poor sisters and their family. I could imagine fate and religion fighting for the remaining souls of this novel, and for a skeptical like me, it was both refreshing and mesmerising.
How could two parishioners vanish without anyone noticing? This question stayed on my mind for a long time. Was it their age? As you get older, you go out less, you socialise less… At least, that’s what they say. Was it the broken family bonds? Was there something wrong with them? At some point, I couldn’t help but imagine if someone would find me, miss me, if something like this was to happen. But… something like what? That’s the one-million question! With it comes a sneaky uneasiness, a taste of something rotten at the core of the events. I’ll admit it, I loved it!
The case itself takes a back seat in A Famished Heart. Like the spark that lits up a fire, the mystery gives way to a deep exploration of relationships. The characters hold the stage – the Father, the detectives, the niece, and Francesca, the sister who escaped to the US a long time ago. There is a lot to do with those ones. Knots to untangle, brains to use, matters to probe. The built of this novel reminds me of Jo Spain’s novels. One big event, and a million waves the readers must navigates to get answers to questions they were not even aware were floating around. I was entirely consumed by my reading. Not because of big races or a huge amount of twists, but because this slow-burning intrigue talked to my mind and heart. I was as much involved in the why as I was in the who. There was no frontiers and the only way to solve this puzzle is to let the novel do its work. Sit, and let your eyes decipher the world Nicola White depicts in a unique and brilliant way.
A Famished Heart is a subtle and fascinating novel with great depth.
Publication day is 27 FEBRUARY 2020! Click on the cover to pre-order your copy.
I would like to thank Viper Books for giving me the opportunity to read and review this beautiful crime novel. This is my unbiased opinion.
Nicola White won the Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award in 2008 and in 2012 was Leverhulme Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University. The Rosary Garden won the Dundee International Book Prize, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, and selected as one of the four best debuts by Val McDermid at Harrogate. She grew up in Dublin and New York, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands.