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Dark thriller set in Aldeburgh, Suffolk

18th October 2017

Sweet William by Iain Maitland. dark thriller set in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

Dark thriller set in Aldeburgh

Raymond Orrey, having murdered his wife and goodness knows what else beside (the details are deliberately sketchy), is detained under Section 37 in a secure mental institution. At the start of the novel he sets about proving how insecure the institution actually is by escaping. He is bent on finding and kidnapping his small son, William, who has been adopted by his mother’s sister and her husband and is settling into a decent family life, despite the miseries of being a type one diabetic, with the endless finger pricking, injections and dietary restrictions that are involved. William’s little family take him to stay with his grandparents at Aldeburgh for the Halloween festival. Orrey knows that the family always spend Halloween at Aldeburgh and the crowds attending the festival, he thinks, will give him the opportunity to snatch the child. So he makes his troubled way there, neatly disposing of anyone who threatens to impede his progress.

The eponymous William may well be sweet, but this story certainly isn’t – it’s at times quite nasty. This book has been described as a dark thriller and it is, without doubt, a page turner – you want to keep reading in the increasingly vain hope that all will turn out well in the end. And dark it certainly is – but without any light to offset the gloom. There are no characters to really identify with, nothing to lift the mood of despair. Most thrillers work because the reader identifies with the potential victim and hopes desperately that they will escape the horror pursuing them. Here, the story is narrated by Orrey as he flees with the small child from the police and it is extremely difficult to find anything in Orrey to empathise with. Only at the beginning when Orrey was describing his fantastical plans to form a daddy-child bond with William by taking him to the south of France, did I feel the slightest twinge of feeling for the character but that was all too soon obliterated by his repeated aggressive commands direct to the reader. All the other characters with whom you might possibly identify are too one dimensional to be effective. Even the plot doesn’t offer much in the way of the exciting twists usual in thrillers, as Orrey just seems to blunder interminably around the back streets of Aldeburgh with his obviously very ill child.

Iain Maitland clearly knows Aldeburgh well and the beach, the seafront and the narrow streets that lead down to the seafront are clearly described. The reader sees these places through Orrey’s jaundiced eyes. Maitland describes Orrey as an unreliable narrator and it is clear, from the onset, that Orrey’s view of the world is certainly pretty different from anyone else’s. As I reached the end of the book (and an unsatisfying ending to  my mind) all I could feel was a sense of relief. It just wasn’t a book for me.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team 

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