Flora wants nothing more than to leave the tiny island of Bancree. Forever, even – only one more year of school, and she can go without looking back. She can’t imagine why anyone would ever choose to come here, and no one ever does. Until the mysterious Ailsa (and her menacing father) move into the isolated Dog Cottage, that is, and Flo finds herself drawn to the strange, lonely girl. Life on the island is finally looking a little more interesting, but when people start disappearing, suspicion quickly falls on the newcomers. Flo is determined to protect her new friend, Ailsa, but the cost could be more than she ever imagined.
I came across this debut novel completely by accident, searching for a similarly named Lee Child book – but Simon Sylvester’s The Visitors is worlds away from Jack Reacher. Drawly deeply from Scottish folklore and myth, in singing prose that is compulsively readable, Sylvester has woven a fantastically dark tale that is equal parts thriller and fantasy. The supernatural aspects in the story were a surprise, the cover blurb having suggested a far more straightforward story, but I really enjoyed the way Sylvester incorporated his own take on traditional tales. In fact, that’s a huge understatement – as the story drew on, I became more and more captivated, leading to a very sleepless night from being unable to put the book down.
Flora is an absolutely fantastic main character. Though stereotypical in description (outsider, no one understands her but there is something indescribably special about her, etcetera, etcetera) the whole adds up to far more than the sum of parts. She is more than capable of looking after herself, but also readily makes mistakes. Her life doesn’t revolve around the “love interest”, and though love – and obsession – are important themes throughout the book, it is never formulaic. The same could be said about the entire plot: though it should have been predictable, it rarely was. Even when revelations were made that I expected, they were made in such a way that they became utterly shocking.
Like its ocean setting, The Visitors is beautiful, cold and relentless – and completely mesmerising.