I’m so glad I came across Under the Harrow on Danielle’s site here. I knew right away I would love it and I was right. Flynn Berry received the Edgar Award for her début and she certainly deserved that. It’s one of the most convincing and surprising psychological thrillers I’ve read in a long time. Think “Gone Girl” or “Girl on a Train” but much, much better and tighter, in spare, convincing prose, and with a literary quality.
At the beginning of the book, Nora’s on a train from London to the English countryside where her sister Rachel lives and works as a nurse. Rachel doesn’t pick her up at the train station, which isn’t too strange because she’s very busy, but when Nora approaches the house she senses something isn’t right. And then she finds Rachel’s dog brutally murdered and her sister savagely killed.
We ate dinner together every night in Cornwall and had an endless number of things to say. She was my favourite person to talk with, because what caught her attention caught mine too.
The police investigate and soon Nora finds out she might not have known her sister as well as she thought. Because she’s not happy with the investigation and thinks she knows who did it, she starts to investigate on her own. Her emotions complicate things considerably. Her grief is so raw, so palpable, and very complex. Nora misses Rachel so much and often forgets that she’s dead. It’s absolutely harrowing.
She had so much left to do. It isn’t that she had something grand in mind, at least not that I know of. It is worse than that, she has been taken away from everything, she lost everything. She likes red lipstick, and will never again stand in the aisle at a chemist’s, testing the shades on the back of her hand. She likes films, and will miss all the ones coming out at the holidays that she planned to see. She likes pan con tomate, and will never again come home from work and mash tomatoes and garlic and olive oil, and rub it onto grilled bread, and eat it standing in her kitchen.
The reader finds out that there was a dark element in their relationship and begins to wonder whether what Nora’s saying is really true. So does the police.
And then there’s an incident from Rachel’s past that casts a shadow over everything. As a teenager she was brutally attacked and ever since then had tried to track down the man who did it and was never found by the police.
All these different plotlines come together in the end. The ending is one of the best I’ve come across in a long time. It’s a huge twist but it’s entirely plausible.
Flynn Berry is very good at creating great characters. Both Rachel and Nora feel very real. Full of contradictions, a mix of darkness and light. The secondary characters are equally convincing.
Under the Harrow is atmospheric and suspenseful but it’s much more than a simple page turner. It explores the often complex relationship between sisters, devastating grief, and the way the past can haunt us.
I know I’m raising the expectations of future readers but I have to say it— This book is stellar.