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Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Under the Harrow is Flynn Berry's debut novel.  It's a fairly gripping, fast read with chapters that fly by--due in part to their brevity as well as the engrossing story.  Set in England, the story takes place in a small English village about an hour's train ride from London.

When Nora arrives to visit her sister Rachel for her semi-regular weekend visit, Nora is shocked to find a brutal blood bath in her sister's home instead, and at its center, her sister's lifeless body, viciously stabbed nearly a dozen times.  Unmoored by her grief and with little faith in the police detectives' ability to find her sister's killer, Nora embarks upon her own investigation to find both her sister's murderer and the man who brutally assaulted Rachel and left her for dead when she was a teenager.  Is it possible her sister's attacker and murderer were the same man?

The police investigation reveals to Nora the secrets her sister kept even from her.  There was Rachel's dog, a German Shepherd (also killed during the commission of Rachel's murder) that was a trained guard dog, and the evidence that suggests her sister was readying for a move to Cornwall, five hours away--neither of which Nora was aware.  Most troubling is the revelation that Rachel never stopped looking for her attacker even though she told Nora she had let go of that obsession.

Now Nora returns to the sisters' old obsession with locating Rachel's attacker and utilizes their old methods in order to track down her sister's murderer.  She begins a potentially dangerous game of baiting the man she suspects responsible for Rachel's murder.  Flashbacks tell the story of Rachel's assault, happier times the two sisters shared as well as how the two women carried on their own investigation into Rachel's assault.  All of which leads to devastating revelations of Rachel's own actions that lead directly to her murder as well as a pulse pounding conclusion.

There are many questions throughout this novel.  Namely what was Rachel hiding?  What other secrets was she keeping?  How well did Nora really know her sister?  Despite the closeness between the two sisters, it is evident from the flashbacks as well as the lies Rachel told and the secrets she kept, that there were parts of herself that she held back even from Nora.  The reader has a distinct unsettling feeling throughout the novel that Nora's investigation, her fixation on a specific local man, and her naivete regarding the police investigation won't end well.  But will it end with Rachel's killer remaining free and her murder unsolved?  By the end of the novel most questions are answered except for the issue of what Rachel meant when she told Nora that there was 'something wrong with the town.'  I can't put my finger on it, but something about the story structure makes the story and/or timeline difficult to follow in some places.

This is a psychological thriller/mystery drenched in grief.  Even as Nora discovers the lies and the wrenching betrayal Rachel told and committed, she is determined to do right by her sister and bring her murderer to justice.  In the end I think Nora finds it a poor salve for her heart breaking loss.


--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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