After the Eclipse
by Fran Dorricott
Two solar eclipses. Two missing girls.
Sixteen years ago a little girl was abducted during the darkness of a solar eclipse while her older sister Cassie was supposed to be watching her. She was never seen again. When a local girl goes missing just before the next big eclipse, Cassie – who has returned to her home town to care for her ailing grandmother – suspects the disappearance is connected to her sister: that whoever took Olive is still out there. But she needs to find a way to prove it, and time is running out.
Yet again I find myself wondering why I don’t reach for thrillers more often, because I always end up enjoying them when I read them. Like most people who enjoy thrillers, I love trying to solve whodunnit – or whydunnit, which is often even more compelling – but when I look at my bookshelves I gravitate towards my SFF or my historical fiction and my unread thrillers end up getting a little left behind.
After the Eclipse has reminded me to try and reach for thrillers more often, and ended up being the perfect palate cleanser after a series of disappointing SFF reads left me feeling like I was heading for a slump.
Cassie and her younger sister, Olive, always spent their summers with their grandparents in Derbyshire. It’s the place where they could escape their parents’ struggling marriage and where Cassie allowed herself to explore her sexuality with local girl, Marion. During a solar eclipse, Cassie was supposed to be keeping an eye on her eleven year old sister, but Olive went missing and was never found.
16 years later, Cassie, now a journalist, returns to Derbyshire to care for her grandmother who’s suffering from dementia, and must come face-to-face with her own feelings of guilt and with Marion, the girl she never quite got over. When another girl goes missing during a solar eclipse, Cassie is more determined than ever to find out what happened to her sister and prevent another girl from suffering the same fate.
Firstly, I don’t think I’ve read a thriller with a queer woman at its centre before. I don’t think that’s because those books aren’t out there, because I’m sure they must be, but because I read so few thrillers I’m missing out on the kinds of characters and relationships I love to read in other genres. Cassie, like the leads of many thrillers, is a bit of a mess. Bless her heart. Her life hasn’t been an easy one and she’s not always a particularly nice person, but I loved her. I love reading stories about characters who are forced to live with the consequences of their actions; we know whatever happened to Olive isn’t Cassie’s fault, but as the older sister we can completely understand her guilt and the guilt that other people have made her feel.
Cassie’s relationship with Marion was one of the highlights of the novel for me. The two of them have always been drawn to each other, have stayed in touch from time to time even if through nothing more than an email, but they didn’t see Olive wander off during the eclipse because they were wrapped up in each other. I so enjoyed watching them rekindle what was between them and helping each other to work through the guilt they both felt.
The heart of this novel for me, though, was Olive herself. We only get glimpses of her here and there, but I got such a sense of the kind of girl she was and the kind of little sister she was to Cassie – the kind of sister Cassie no doubt found a bit weird and annoying, but would hit anyone else who said so – and this isn’t something that’s always done well in a thriller. Women are so often the victims in thrillers that sometimes we can become desensitised to what might have happened to them, but Dorricott doesn’t let this happen to Olive.
Nothing’s gratuitous, which I also so appreciated, but it’s what Dorricott leaves unsaid that makes Olive’s story so heart-breaking. This is Cassie’s story, but just as Cassie can never forget Olive we’re never given the opportunity to forget her either. In fact while Cassie feels immense guilt, her search for the truth isn’t about relieving her of that guilt but of finding out what happened to Olive and finding justice for Olive.
There are potential culprits aplenty and Dorricott’s writing style is so readable that I flew through this book. If this is her debut, I can’t wait to see what she does next!