The first chapter is short, only two pages long, but these two pages are enough to convey to the reader, the brutality, the complete lack of empathy, and the malignancy of “The Mother Killer”. This is the name given to him by the press. He only kills pregnant women, and in this short, brutal first chapter, he takes the life of his fourth victim.
The second chapter will not only shift in time but also in geography. The reader has now moved from Germany 2011, to England 2005. The whole tone of the novel has changed. The reader is now witness to a harmless, though spirited game of football. However, it could be synchronised swimming for all Hannah Cunningham knows, for she only has eyes for one player, Calum Armstrong. Although her attention is stolen by Calum, Hannah does love her sport. She is the captain of the netball team and holder of the school record for the 400 metres. It is this combined love of sport that helps to bring Hannah and Calum together as not just close friends, but best friends. Best of friends yes, but Hannah knows in her heart that they are destined for marriage.
These thoughts are crushed to pulp, when Hannah’s father gets a job that will require the whole family to leave Norwich and relocate. Both young characters, especially Hannah, are heartbroken.
If the reader is under any illusion that this novel is not comfortably ensconced in the magical realism genre, than chapter three will hit them in the face like a cold dead fish, appropriate, because the source of the magical realism is a bizarre sea monster named “Klahan Kinnara” who lives at the bottom of the sea. A monster who is cursed. A curse that can only be lifted if a human seeks him out and asks for forgiveness, which for the last two thousand years has been proving a major problem. Especially as the person must first acknowledge Klahan’s existence. Klahan’s curse and past are explained later in the novel and are a highlight of the book for me.
Chapter five sees the “Mother Killer” claim their seventh victim. Well at least Detective Lieutenant Otto Netzer, who has been called in to help the local police, thinks it is the work of the same killer.
Ansbro’s love of Thailand exudes out into some lovely descriptive writing, painting wonderful pictures of Thailand in the reader’s mind. It almost made me want to drop everything and pack a bag and head to Patong Beach, which is where we find Sawat Leelapun, This is the very beach where, just offshore Klahan spends his days moping on the bottom of the sea. Sawat has been forced to support his family after his father tragically drowned four years ago. Sawat will buy beers and drinks from a bottle shop, put them in a ice box, and then patrol the beach selling the drinks to the tourists at a profit. It is here where the reader is given an integral piece of information. Sawat has seen Klahan Kinnara out in the ocean a year ago, he acknowledges his existance and he has never forgotten him.
Ansbro weaves these diverse narratives and cast of characters into a connected narrative and does so in a way that feels realistic and not forced. Natural coincidences bring the characters together and the narrative gets better as it goes.
This novel feels like a love story wrapped up inside a parable or fairy tale. The inclusion of the Kinnara, who comes from Hindu mythology, gives the narrative a mystical ambiance, especially towards the end of the novel. And just like parables, this novel has a strong theme and lesson to take away, and I believe this is the importance of forgiveness. It pops up in many different parts of the narrative.
I was all set to give this three stars, which for me is a good book, but the ending ties all the narratives and loose ends into a fabulous ending, especially the very last page. Maybe this novel has more than just one lesson to teach, the other being, in the end you get what you deserve. An impressive debut. 4 stars.
For those of you not members of goodreads here's Kevin's bio.
I was born of Irish parents, and have lived in Malaysia and Germany: My formal education was at Hamond's Grammar School in Swaffham, and at the Norfolk College of Arts and Technology (Stephen Fry being a much more famous former student). I write in the magical realism genre, meshing otherworldliness into the harshness of our real world. I also like to handcuff humour and tragedy to the same radiator. Perhaps incongruously for an author I have a background in karate and kickboxing. I also travel extensively – particularly in the Far East. I'm married (to Julie) and currently live in Norwich, England. Stuff about me: I'm a foodie and an avid reader who values good manners, love and friendship above all else. I am constantly putting my foot in it, am reputed to have a wicked sense of humour and love to laugh, but sometimes do that 'snorty pig' noise when I do! I'm also easy-going and extremely friendly. Come on over and have a chat - I'll put the kettle on!