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
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
Arts and Entertainment
The episode saw the surprise return of shifty caravan owner Susan Wright, played by a Pauline Quirke (ITV)

Review: Broadchurch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are teaming up for a Hurricane Katrina drama

film
Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore