Black Thorn

Black Thorn  | Sarah Hilary

Black Thorn | Sarah Hilary

The cover of Black Thorn leads you to think this will be a ‘typical’ murder mystery where the bodies gradually pile up.

It’s not. Instead it’s an incisive look into family life and loyalties, ambition, criminal negligence, toxic greed and cover-up. The main character, Agnes, who is autistic and hypersensitive, and often struggles to cope with her emotions, has returned to her family after her relationship breaks up, joining her parents and younger brother in their new life in an ‘idyllic’ luxurious development by the sea. It’s all, on the surface at least, laughter, friendly neighbours and barbecues till things go very badly wrong.

Like the other residents, Agnes and her family are forced to leave the home into which they have sunk all their money; they have a pittance to live on in their small, grotty caravan. As the police investigation proceeds, Agnes tries to understand what has happened while trying to keep her family from falling apart at the seams.

Black Thorn is atmospheric, claustrophobic, compulsive, and all those adjectives reviewers have thrown at it. It pulsates with tension. And it’s also extremely well observed and well written. The pull of family on Agnes, and her almost equally strong urge to leave them to their own mess, is wonderfully conveyed.

The sense of simmering menace is carried through into the descriptions of the location and weather, and even reinforced by the stark contrast with the calmness and kindness depicted through the character Errol, Agnes’ friend. Their friendship is beautifully portrayed, delicately sketching the bond between the two people who are perceived or treated as the most weird or different but who are probably the sanest people in the place.

Overall, Black Thorn is a rewarding and gripping read.

Published by Macmillan, 13 July 2023.

Thanks to Netgalley, the publishers and the author for the ARC. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.

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