Book review: Six Wicked Reasons by Jo Spain
Usually in a typical crime thriller there's a mystery at the start that has you intrigued and keep you reading, but with Jo Spain (The Boy Who Fell, Sleeping Beauties) the situation also invites the reader to have something of empathy or concern either about a victim or perhaps someone wrongly accused. With Six Wicked Reasons, Spain seems to take more of a risk and break from convention, choosing instead to present the reader with a victim who you don't much care about and six siblings of a wealthy family who you quickly find are just as difficult to like, each of them with a good wicked reason why they might have killed their father Frazer Lattimer.
The Lattimer siblings have all gone their separate ways and been mostly estranged from each other over the years, their lives (and personal enmities and problems) taking them in other directions. Something however has happened to bring them back together. Adam who had vanished 10 years ago has returned from the dead and their father Frazer Lattimer has invited Kate, James, Ellen, Clio and Ryan back home from far afield to the family home in the village of Albertstown, Waterford on the south coast of Ireland. The family put aside their differences, keen to know what has happened to Adam, but they suspect Frazer might have other reasons for the gathering related to their trusts and inheritance. During a supposedly celebratory boat trip however it appears that Frazer has been murdered and thrown off the boat.
The local police detective Rob Downes knows the family, knows that they all hate each other and he's convinced that their stories doesn't add up. As he interviews each of them, it's clear that they are all hiding something. Why has Adam suddenly returned? Is it really because he has just discovered that his mother Kathleen died 9 years ago - her death something that some family members believe his disappearance contributed to - and he has turned up to belatedly pay respects? The family inheritance, has definitely something to do with the anger and mistrust of each other and we can presume the death of their father. Downes himself has a history with the family and might not be a completely impartial observer either.
So there are a few little quirks in Six Wicked Reasons in addition to Spain's typically keen observations on Irish family and society, but it feels a little bit pedestrian for this author. The detective is presented with different accounts, we learn progressively about the backgrounds and back story of each that will presumably lead towards a motive for killing their father, and evidently such is the nature of the family that it could be any of them. There's nothing exceptional in any of the stories, but there are some sharp observations about the mix of wealthy families, money and alcohol. Being Jo Spain of course there are a few curve balls thrown in now and again; nothing spectacular, but enough to raise a smile that assures you that the author has this one under control and is going to get you to some interesting developments.
And, as unlikely as it seems, she might even make you start caring a little about these over-privileged screw-ups. Which, in the absence of conventional thrills and twists, is probably the strength of Spain's writing here in Six Wicked Reasons and it adds another dimension to her Tom Reynolds and other standalone thrillers in their exploration of different aspects of Irish society and its uncomfortable, sometimes dark secrets that are not openly talked about or even acknowledged. The situation with the Lattimers is by no means unique, there are indeed undoubtedly many dark secrets that still haven't been uncovered and there are still people who get away - metaphorically or otherwise - with murder.