First line: "She would never have fit as neatly into the trunk of his own car."
In a day and age when house swapping has become commonplace, Siobhán Macdonald has found the ideal story concept to scare the bejesus out of her readers and make them think twice about that romantic Cameron Diaz Holiday.
Kate O'Brien, living in Limerick, Ireland, is running ragged. She teaches at the local college, but has recently turned down a promotion because it would require more time at work. As it is, she rushes home to be sure she's there for her son, Fergus. Fergus may be autistic, but Macdonald doesn't come straight out and say so. He is definitely bullied at school which weighs heavily on Kate and her daughter, Izzy. Izzy sacrifices a lot because of her brother's special needs, but she doesn't complain and she doesn't begrudge him anything. Fergus and Izzy's father, Mannix O'Brien, is occupied with secretive issues of his own that he's shared with his brother, but not his wife.
Hazel Harvey lives in an expensive Manhattan apartment with her dentist husband, Oscar, and their two children, Jess and Elliot. They appear to have an enviable life, but behind closed doors there are problems and secrets, and everything isn't quite what it appears to the outside world.
Kate and Hazel both decide that a family vacation is in order to help deal with the mounting stresses in their homes. So they take to the computer and research a house-swap for their accommodations. Kate wants to visit New York City because Fergus adores the movie King Kong. She can't believe her luck when she happens on Hazel's home in the listings. Hazel wants to visit Limerick because she emigrated from Ireland and hasn't been back to visit her homeland since.
Both families make their arrangements and set off for their vacations that will correlate with Halloween. What transpires befits the creepiest of haunting Halloween tales.
In her debut, Macdonald does an exquisite job of leading her readers by the noses and then throwing grand twists into the plot to catch them completely off guard. She plays off stereotypes to successfully muddy the plot waters and enhance the mystery. Be careful of drawing conclusions before reaching the end of Twisted River because Macdonald is likely to prove your conclusions wrong.
The suspense is well-developed to maintain intrigue and an eerie atmosphere consistently throughout the book.
The choice of a limited third person narrator allows Macdonald to share enough of the characters so readers can begin to develop ideas about them, but not enough to see their entire pictures. This works to help develop the suspense but it also highlights a theme of the novel: people are rarely who they first appear to be. Both family matriarchs end up guilty of assuming things about the other family without having the whole picture. And in Macdonald's world of Twisted River, that can be very, very dangerous.
Twisted River is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 9780143108436) from Penguin. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781504686792), narrated by Alana Kerr Collins, Sile Bermingham, Gerard Doyle and Tom Taylorson, from Blackstone Audio.