Disappointed that this book was given the title The Woman at No. 13. There are so many books with titles similar to this. The People at Number 9 or 10, or Over the Road or Upstairs or Next Door and so forth. This novel deserves a more distinctive title because that's what it is: distinctive. The author acknowledgments say that the original title was Local Whispers, with the symbolism of whispers throughout, it would have been a better title. But still, the house trend obviously works.
On the one hand, this is a murder mystery whodunnit. But the other hand demonstrates what it's like living in a modern-day Catholic community in Ireland, the pressures that still exist after the years of The Troubles, folklore, loyalty, honesty and morality. It deals with the issues that still remain taboo within the Catholic Church and the history and symbolism of yew trees. Fascinating stuff.
The premise is straightforward - a teenager is found murdered and the bare evidence the police have points to only one person. The woman who lives at number thirteen is the local GP and is the only suspect. She calls for the support of her German friend who moves in with her while she faces threats in the form of notes, letters and the general suspicions from the villagers.
The story is told in the first person by the German friend. This serves to show what it is like for an outsider entering into a close-knit community and their strict views. It also makes him almost neutral as he tries to work out what's going on as the local police are rather useless and as bad as everyone else in the village. The chapters are short and often contain bits of evidence, such as letters, diaries and interviews, and are grouped by the times and days since the murder.
The book takes an unusual turn towards the end, when it is revealed that a number of characters have the same issues and deal with them in the same way. There is a romantic section that covers an awful lot of pages and almost changes the genre of the book. That definitely needs cutting, at least in length by a considerable margin.
This is a very well written book, concise and snappy, and free from clichés and common themes in murder mysteries. The descriptions of the area are haunting and atmospheric, and the 'whisper' symbolism adds to this. The short chapters and sentences make this a fast paced story.
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Published by One More Chapter on 13 August 2021.
Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.