Last year I read my first book by Malone who is a mainstay of Tartan Noir. Quicksand of Memory led me up the garden path and back again with its twists and turns, so I wasn’t going to turn down his latest, The Murmurs, was I?
It begins with Annie Jackson waking from a nightmare on the first day of her new job at a care home. As she arrives she encounters an old man sitting outside, and with a terrifying lurch in her mind, his face morphs into a skull and voices tell her he is going to die, and how. It’s not a good start with her reeling and getting an instant migraine. Her new boss is naturally concerned.
The novel is told in a dual timeline – ‘Annie – now’ and ‘Annie – then’, interspersed with Annie’s mother’s story and occasional diary excerpts and testimonies from previous generations of the female line which highlight a long affliction with this ‘curse’ right back to a woman tried as a witch.
Annie and her twin brother Lewis were orphaned when they were young, when first their father took his own life and then their mother drowned in a car accident that Annie, who was in the car with her, survived. The accident gave Annie amnesia, which was partially a blessing in a way, but also a curse as she feels her mother Eleanor never loved her. The twins were brought up by their godparents who gave them much love.
The incident with the old man at the care home is a rude awakening for Annie, who becomes increasingly afflicted with these visions, having to leave the care home. With time on her hands, she starts to look into her family to discover more about her female ancestors, who had the Murmurs and who didn’t, and with Lewis’ help it will lead to many difficult truths being uncovered as they investigate Eleanor’s sisters.
Running alongside this central plotline are several side plots which cleverly weave around the main one, conjoining and then moving apart again until the climax of the novel. There is the now freed convicted murderer who always maintained his innocence of the murder of his girlfriend – whom teenaged Annie had told ‘don’t get in the red car’. There are the old childhood friends of Lewis and Annie who are now running an obviously dodgy multi-million church empire, and Annie is still attracted to Chris the charismatic preacher. The action moves from Glasgow to the Ardnamurchan peninsula where the Jacksons grew up and where Chris and his sister Danni are planning a special celebratory service to which Annie must come.
Malone, a trained psychotherapist, is really adept at getting into his characters’ minds, so that all the main supporting characters have depth as well as Annie and Lewis. Although the twins do work well together, there is also sibling rivalry at play sometimes. Annie’s visions are truly horrific and the historical accounts give a gothic edge to the novel. At every step of the way, the church is involved somehow too, and the manipulation by those in power there gives an extra creepy feel too.
Good reads says that this is ‘Annie Jackson #1’ suggesting that there will be more to come, which doesn’t surprise me given the ending. I don’t always like a supernatural element to my noir, but in Malone’s hands it’s safe. The whole also slightly echoes the current Sunday night BBC thriller, The Woman in the Wall – sharing some of the same themes in a small way, and I could see a lot of the insomniac and driven Lorna in Annie. If you enjoy creepiness with twists, I’d recommend this novel wholeheartedly.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Orenda paperback original, 358 pages.
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