Whilst I enjoyed The Wych Elm (I was fascinated with the gothic story behind the title), I preferred The Searcher – the ending feels more plausible, and the whole thing is more tightly structured. Cal Hooper has handed in his Chicago Police Badge and upped sticks to a remote village in the west of Ireland. He’s seeking space, solitude, and a house to do up. He’s slowly learning the ways of his new environment, watching both his neighbours and the local wildlife with interest. His talkative neighbour, Mart, is his way into the community, and the only dangers Cal assumes he faces are the local matchmakers and the local poteen. But from the beginning, with the rooks attacking something small in the grass in front of Cal’s new home, we’re aware that the beauty of the area can also mask a brutal need for survival.
‘He’s halfway through his food … when the back of his neck flares again. This time he even hears the signal that triggered it: a small, clumsy scramble, almost instantly cut off…’
Cal may well have left policing behind him, but his investigation skills are sought out by a local, rather unkempt, child, Trey. Trey’s older brother has disappeared and nobody seems much to care – the family are poor and live a squalid existence on the edge of the community. Young men routinely leave for work in Dublin and it’s assumed by most that this is where Brendan has gone too. It’s the persistence of Trey that leads to a reluctant Cal beginning to think otherwise. The tension is ratcheted up slowly and consistently, leaving the reader’s neck prickling too. Cal is the latest in a long line of searchers, characters who, because of their own code, have to pursue a trail to its conclusion. It reminded me strongly of Jane Harper’s novels, most notably The Dry and The Lost Man – there’s something about the outsider in a remote landscape, faced with a community willing to close ranks when necessary, that makes for a gripping tale. Well worth a read.