Abuse and suffering are matters that Louise O'Neill is clearly passionate about, and she’s very good at writing them, so it follows that her new psychological thriller should return to familiar territory, although it's her first in the whodunnit thriller mode. 

O'Neill has proven herself to be particularly adept at portraying victims of trauma, from sexual assault to domestic abuse, as we’ve seen in much of her work to date. The harrowing subject matter of novels like Only Ever Yours and Asking for It have fuelled discussion around body image, consent, and the complicity of society and social media in the suffering of abuse victims. Her latest offering will add to the conversation.

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 Listen: Louise O'Neill talks After The Silence to Louise McSharry on RTÉ 2FM

As a first foray into a new genre, After the Silence is a change in direction for the Cork writer, but one that still plays to her strengths. Our protagonist Keelin Kinsella has a troubled past, having fled an abusive husband with her young son Alan in tow. She remarried to the wealthy and charismatic Henry, son of a prominent hotelier. They have a daughter together and live comfortably well-off on the fictional, windswept island of Inisrun, off the Irish coast. However, Keelin is haunted by more than one event from the past. On a stormy night ten years prior, a much-loved local girl Nessa Crowley, one of the beautiful, smart and popular 'Crowley Girls’, was killed at a party in their house. The murder is unsolved, and the islanders presume either Henry or Keelin responsible, although nothing has ever been proven.

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The cold case peaks the interest of a pair of Australian filmmakers, who travel to the island to make a documentary about what happened, aiming to finally crack it. This works well as a narrative device, as their interviewees give us some important background on the key characters, and offer different versions of the events in question. Of course, as in any good murder mystery, it turns out a number of people could have been motivated to commit the crime.

O’Neill appears to be prodding at our morbid fascination with true crime here - ‘salivating over the details, play-acting like a bunch of Nancy Drews, as if there’s not real people involved, real families torn-apart’, as one islander puts it. Also called into question is that tendency of ours to assume without proof, to make snap judgements and jump to conclusions, and even worse, to do so online. Later, as the family gathers to watch the final documentary cut, nervously awaiting the fall-out on Twitter, Henry observes, 'It's the era we’re living in, you see. Trial by social media. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?’

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As in her second novel Asking for It, O’ Neill is great at evoking the small-town vibe. Inisrun is a place where everyone’s business is everyone’s business, and the rumour mill is ever-churning. It’s initially hard to comprehend why Henry and Keelin would choose to remain there after all that’s happened, but we soon discover there’s a reason. It’s not a spoiler to say that Henry Kinsella is an awful guy. The more time we spend with him, the more we realise he’s not all that different from Keelin’s ex-husband, his appalling treatment of her is just more subtle. The way this controlling behaviour - the gaslighting and emotional manipulation - gradually escalates feels very true to life, and is all the more insidious for it. The extent of O’Neill’s research into abuse and abusers is evident here in the way she’s written their interactions, and they can be difficult to read.

I read this accidentally in tandem with Lucy Foley’s The Guest List - both remote-island-based whodunnits, but they do have their differences. O’Neill keeps her circle of potential suspects tighter, and the build slower. Foley has given the book her nod of approval and they make good companion reads, both landing us in a very harsh and ominous environment, cut off from the safety of the mainland, places struggling to overcome the violence of the past, and with the threat of more to come.