Alice Clark-Platts’ debut novel was The Flower Girls, an unsettling look at children who kill other children. Her most recent book, The Cove takes the domestic thriller to a small island off the coast of Malaysia and then turns up the heat on all of its main characters.
Expat Brits Lou and Adam live in Singapore. They have decided to have a long weekend at an island resort off the coast of Malaysia with their two new friends Eliza and Noah. Lou and Adam have a nine year old boy, Raffy, and a newborn Laila, While Eliza and Noah have nine-year-old twins. From almost the first page readers will be able to tell that no matter how idyllic the setting, there’s trouble ahead for these four. Lou is on pills for what is possibly post-natal depression, Adam is inattentive because he is too busy lusting after Eliza, something that Eliza is responding to, much to Noah’s chagrin.
Fuelled by alcohol, the relationships both within and between the couples begin to deteriorate, a circumstance made more acute by a scuba diving incident which makes Adam question the relationship between resort owner Lars and the local people. After a particularly big night of drinking, Adam takes out a kayak in the early morning and does not return, and then the monsoon hits and the situation starts to spiral.
Clark-Platts shows a great understanding of each of the members of her two couples and the things that are driving their behaviour. She manages to make her point of view chapters feel revelatory while playing a few key cards close to her chest. Slightly fantastical, and a little cliched, is the almost Holmesian detective she brings in towards the end to wrap things up but by that time readers are glad for a chance to catch their breath and have a calm, friendly face lead them out of the thickets.
Much like The White Lotus, Clark-Platts also uses her scenario to explore the tension between colonial style luxury tourist resorts for the ultra wealthy and the local people who they both exploit and depend on. In doing so, she provides a vivid description of the island and its inhabitants.
The Cove is a short, sharp, taut, effective thriller with a few things to say and more than one twist in its tale.
For more of Robert’s reviews, visit his blog Pile By the Bed
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The Daughter of Doctor Moreau (Silvia Moreno-Garcia) – book review
- The Burning Island (Jock Serong) – book review
- The Colony (Audrey Magee) – book review
Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. This and over 450 more book reviews can be found on his website Pile By the Bed.