A Famished Heart by Nicole White
A Famished Heart is the first in an all-new trilogy from the Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award winner. This 80s set trilogy will explore ‘the power of the Catholic Church and the powerlessness of unmarried women.’
THEY DID IT TO THEMSELVES
BUT SOMEONE WAS WATCHING
When the Macnamara sisters aren’t seen for a couple of months, Father Timoney goes to check up on them. When there’s no response at their home, he lets himself into the house. There he finds the bodies of both sisters, one in a chair downstairs and one curled up under a bed upstairs. Their passing was shocking but even more so was the state of their skeletal bodies, having starved to death.
When Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine are called to the house, they’re convinced there is more to the deaths than meets the eye. Handwritten notes from one of the sisters proved her will to survive so why didn’t she eat? Also, a light was seen on upstairs after the suspected times they passed away. They know the sisters starved to death but were they really alone, or was someone watching?
A Famished Heart by Nicola White review
A Famished Heart by Nicola White is the first novel to be published under the brand new Viper Books imprint at Serpent’s Tail, and they are off to a flying start.
This novel was my first taste of Irish religious noir, and it had me hooked. The novel has a number of different threads running alongside the sisters’ deaths that genuinely added to the pace and its readability. As it’s set in the 80s, you have Gina Considine fighting for the recognition she deserves in a male-dominated team and Vincent Swan’s attempts to support her while struggling with his colleagues himself. You also meet, Francesca Macnamara, the third sister who had left Ireland for an acting career in America. She returns to her hometown and you follow her struggle as she attempts to come to terms with the deaths and the memories she left behind.
Unlike many crime novels, you know how the sisters have died from the outset, so the story focuses on why, how, and who else knew? I don’t want to post any spoilers but the conviction and what these women go through in the last stages of their lives are truly unnerving. Although this is a fictional story, Nicole White has taken inspiration from the real-life deaths of four women who starved themselves to death in Ireland in 2001.
A Famished Heart by Nicola White is a unique and gripping novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. I also really loved the characters of Gina and Vincent, so I’m looking forward to more from them in the future.
Father Timoney rang the doorbell a third time. Listened to the soft bing-bong resonate somewhere deep in the house. A figurine of the Child of Prague in his big frock stood in the narrow window beside the door, dead lies scattered at his feet. The nylon curtain hanging at the statue’s back shut off any view of the inside.
Most likely the sisters had gone away and not told anyone. He had noticed they hadn’t been at mass lately; his congregation was so sparse, of course he’d noticed. If he’d thought about it, he might have assumed they’d followed the rest of his migratory parishioners over to Holy Trinity, where the heating functioned and the brass chandeliers shone bright in the dark mornings. Or they could have gone off to visit a relative, a sick relative. Often women did that.
But their niece, a small punky-looking one, had arrived at his door, saying she hadn’t been able to reach her aunts for a month, and no one would answer the door. It was nine o’clock last night when she’d shown up, distraught and melodramatic. ‘You are their shepherd,’ she’d said, clutching at his hand. A sharp waft of alcohol came off her breath. He told her to go home, to leave it with him.
He had asked his housekeeper, Mrs Noonan, for her advice – she knew so much more about the people around here. He hadn’t even known the keys to their house were among the hoard in the hall cupboard, until she told him.
He took the keys out of his coat pocket now, the brown label written in Father Deasy’s fussy hand. The Misses MacNamara.
Still he hesitated. There would be a simple explanation. And yet he realised he was rehearsing the sequence of events that led him to this moment, as if noting it to tell someone later.
He took a breath and slid the key into the lock. When he turned it, the door opened easily, but juddered to a stop as a little gilt chain tightened across the gap, a chain someone inside must have slotted in place. He looked over his shoulder, along the cul-de-sac spattered with yellow leaves. Nobody about. He should have asked young Jimmy to come with him, but it would be spineless to go back to the parish house and get him now.
He put his face to the gap, about to call Hello there, but inhaled a waft of heat so thick it stopped his voice; a swampy warmth bearing a bouquet of chemical !owers and there, like a wire running through it, a very specific smell.
Despite the many bodies he’d prayed over and delivered to their rest, he had met this smell only once before, ages past, down by the railroad near Sandymount. Hunkering in the long grass on a hot day, hiding from the older boys, the thread of a strange odour – redolent of mutton and sweat – had led him to the body of an Alsatian dog wreathed in broken bricks, the rising flies unveiling a pale-pink crater behind its plush ear.
One hand against the door now, his heart began thumping. Why did it have to be him? Why did the Lord – or was it the world – try him so? Another priest would have had the wit to call the police. To not be the lone one standing here, knowing he had to press on, because every action on this earth is witnessed.
Father Timoney took a step back, then threw his bulk at the neat white door, bruising his shoulder against the wood. The chain held.
He flung himself again and heard a metallic ‘ping’ as the chain gave way. But he couldn’t halt the momentum of his body and fell through the opening gap, landing on his knees on a spill of unopened post, sliding forward on layers of glossy paper and envelopes. He braced his hands against the grimy carpet to stop his face meeting it. When he raised his head, he was in the doorway of the living room, and there in an armchair she sat, facing him. One of the sisters. Her head was bowed, she was swaddled in shawls, but the hands braced on the chair arms were not like hands at all, but the dry claws of a bird.
If you liked The Famished Heart by Nicola White, you’ll love Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton.
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