Books Fiction: What Maisie knew

THE GOD CHILD by Paul Sayer, Bloomsbury pounds 14.99

The opening to this novel is pure Stephen King: "I hate the wind. The way it bangs off the sea," the protagonist's elderly mother says, holed up in the winter-emptied bar of her clifftop hotel. "You think something dreadful's going to happen." Her son Harold Broome is 39, back in the fuggy nest after a disastrous marriage and a long adult slide between failing businesses. Chafed by memories and self-recrimination, he meanders through the grey March days. Each Friday night his small release is to walk the wet streets of his east Yorkshire town, "the wind's slapping hands at my back", to a pub and a few pairs of pints with a dull friend from school.

A dozen pages in, Sayer slips a shock into this routine. As Broome sits, his boredom blunted by bitter, his niece Maisie walks in. She is supposed to be at university in Newcastle, and on her arm is a young man with small, aggressive eyes; Broome steps over. A frosty greeting quickly becomes an insult, a shove, raised fists in the cold alley outside. Broome stalks home, humiliated. Then Maisie rings from her house across town: the young man is dead.

Sayer chases nimbly through the genre plot development. The dead man is in Maisie's kitchen, leaking blood from a hole the width of a chopping blade. Maisie says she did it. Broome, after a finely-caught ecstasy of hesitation and impulsion - "there simply wasn't time to think" - decides to stop her ringing the police. Maisie is his niece and something of a miracle in his eyes: born two months premature after a car crash that killed her mother. The Broomes know Maisie as the God Child; Harold will get rid of the body for her.

One minute, it is the easiest thing in the world: just drag the body into the car boot, jam the parcel shelf down on top, throw in a shovel, and head inland for the woods. The next, the family favour is impossible, soul-corroding: a trip to the DIY centre to buy quicklime dissolves into a sweating nightmare of suspicious glances, security cameras, and a small girl complaining about the funny smell in the car park. Broome makes countless small mistakes. Brown blood patches mark his clothes; a farmer spots him beside the wood, still giddy from the digging. But Broome gets it done, and waits for time and decomposition to finish the job.

They don't, of course. As summer blazes in, a detective, then the dead man's relations, arrive from Newcastle. Short crisp chapters end in frights and revelations. As the remaining pages thin down, expectations thicken of a flight along the cliffs, or some violent showdown at the hotel, mother hiding from the gunshots behind her favourite barstool.

But the book passes up these possibilities for something more subtle. Sayer's writing is spare and cool, slightly at odds with the melodrama it carries; at the end, his tone of seaside resignation, of lives stilled between the town's great sweep of beach and sky, begins to infect and slow the pace of events. Broome is questioned and accused, he in turn demands the truth from Maisie - yet all of these confrontations lack the back-and-forth decisiveness of a thriller climax, opting instead for friction and frustration, the stuff of Alan Bennett rather than Alistair MacLean. It doesn't quite work. Maisie and the dead man never become more than sketches. Broome's panics never boil into hysteria. Yet the eerie quiet that surrounds their final accommodation has its power. And leaves room for a sequel.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'