Perry, Karen - 'Only We Know'
Three children, two brothers, Nick and Luke, and Katie, the daughter of a friend, Helen, are playing in the river, in the Masai Mara in Kenya back in 1982, when something unthinkable happens. It’s near the end of their three day safari, and Nick and Luke’s mother Sally is lying out on the grass nearby, waiting for a driver to take them home. Their assigned driver, Mackenzie, was out drinking the night before, and is now sleeping it off. Ken, Sally’s husband, is trying to sort out how they will make the trip back to Nairobi, as Katie and her mother Helen are due to fly back home to Ireland. While they wait, Nick, Luke and Katie have gone down to the river where its cooler, and have met and made friends with Cora and Amy, two blond-haired girls who live nearby, and they start to play a game together. A game that ends in tragedy, with the truth of the life-changing event gradually revealed throughout the novel.
The novel moves back and forwards to the present day, where Katie is now working as a journalist in Dublin. Luke is a well-known entrepreneur also living in Ireland, while Nick lives in Nairobi. Nick and Luke’s parents Sally and Ken are both dead, and Katie believes that she, Luke and Nick are the only ones left who know what really happened back in the Masai Mara in 1982. Katie meets Luke at a party, and he tells her Nick is about to get married to an American. And then, the next day, Luke goes missing, marking the start of a gradually unwinding of the façade that Katie has built up for herself over the past few years, and a reckoning to come.
What did really happen all those years ago, and who was responsible? Is it just Nick, Katie and Luke that know what happened, or does someone else know, and are they only now trying to make them pay? The story is told through the eyes of Katie and Nick, and sometimes Sally - when the story goes back to 1982. Both Katie and Nick are clearly damaged individuals, with permanent marks resulting from the trauma they were faced with back on the Masai Mara. As some sort of reminder of those events, in the present day story, Katie receives a parcel with a dead bird just before leaving for Kenya. Is it meant as a threat? Is she in danger? As events play out, Katie ends up back in the Masai Mara and finally the truth is revealed.
This is the second book from Karen Perry, author of THE BOY WHO NEVER WAS, and is another psychological drama. The novel captures the damaging effects of children trying to keep a deadly secret, and the destructive nature of that secret on their adult lives. Each of the three children has responded differently to the events, but each is scarred in some way. The novel makes good use of the different way in which children understand an event, compared to an adult, and how what they can’t make sense of what they see as children, suddenly does make sense as an adult. However, it jumps about somewhat as the story switches between the present day and the past, and between characters, which sometimes breaks up the flow of the novel a bit too much for my liking. The build up in tension as events unfold is mainly achieved through descriptions of Katie’s thoughts and responses to events, while Nick’s contributions seem a little more two-dimensional, and less revealing. ONLY WE KNOW is an interesting novel, but I did find it a little difficult to care too much about the main characters, I had to work quite hard to piece everything together and as a result I wasn’t entirely gripped by the story, in perhaps the way I would have liked to have been.
Michelle Peckham, England