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The Kept by James Scott

In the depths of 1897 winter, Elspeth arrives home to the bodies of her husband and children, and is shot by her only surviving son – a cruel case of mistaken identity. Even with his mortally wounded mother to care for, Caleb is determined to avenge his family. But Elspeth has a secret that will change everything…

For all it focuses on family ties and loyalty, The Kept, James Scott’s debut novel, is no feel-good read. It is pretty clear that the author cares a lot about his characters, but that doesn’t stop him putting them through hell. Elspeth and her son are deeply flawed, their story complex and cruel. There is a strong focus on religion – both the Biblical kind, and a deeper, more spiritual sense of nature – and much of what the characters go through feels like atonement for sins both committed and imagined.

James Scott’s writing clearly evokes the bleak landscape and equally stark, isolated characters, but there is a tendency towards unnecessary detail and the third person narrative is a little too detached from the story. It’s almost like watching a documentary in which the camera is off panning over a frozen lake or icy field, while the action is taking place just out of shot.

Though Scott is clearly a promising new writer, I found myself intrigued but not captivated, and the abrupt ending left me a little dazed.

REVIEWER: Jazz Croft

The Kept, by James Scott, is published by Random House. RRP is $34.99.


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