Review - COME TO HARM, Catriona McPherson
Having never read anything by Catriona McPherson before, this made it into the To Be Read Mountain based on the blurb - which appealed. Looking at her back catalogue this is an author who is not afraid to try different things and COME TO HARM is a perfect example of that difference.
Set in a small Scottish town, Japanese student Keiko Nishisato is a student in residence, sponsored by the local Traders association, provided with an apartment to live in, more food and supplies that you can poke a stick at, and enough to keep a student of Psychology scribbling notes on a minute by minute basis.
This feels, needless to say, like a rather odd setup. Particularly as the university at which Nishisato is studying is some distance from the town, and because of the slightly eccentric nature of many of the local townsfolk. And the slight sense of menace, particularly as Nishisato starts to pick up some none-too-subtle signals.
Not everybody would be comfortable living above a butcher's shop, and there is much in the behaviour of Mrs Poole, the widow of the recently dead butcher, and mother of two sons - the brooding and overweight Malcolm who loves his job in the shop, and the slight and more edgy brother Murray - not so happy to be in the shop. His workshop where he rebuilds motorbikes and works out on his elaborate gym equipment seems like a much more comfortable location for him. Needless to say there's a spark of attraction between Nishisato and Murray Poole, although their chances of much time together are dinted somewhat by the persistence of the town traders who have worked out a schedule for feeding and amusing Nishisato that would make anyone wilt.
To get COME TO HARM you're going to have to accept that a Japanese student could step into a local town and instantly get the language, and the culture. Get it enough to pick up on some odd nuances and subtle behaviours that in the cool hard light of reflection, seem like a pretty big bridge to have walked over. Perhaps it's a testament to the pace of the story, and the engaging way in which it's told, that any niggling doubts are easy to push to one side. Of course there's always that slight feeling that there are lines to be drawn here ... butchers shop ... backyard slaughterhouse ... odd goings on ... missing girls ... and to be honest, this reader was feeling more than a bit let down that something so obvious was building here. If you're suffering from the same belief, then continue reading. You might be as surprised too. Very surprised.
Happily surprised by the ending of COME TO HARM, pleasing surprised by how enjoyable this book was, not so surprised that the rest of the standalones from this author are now on the To Be Read list.
For Keiko Nishisato, leaving Tokyo is a rare adventure, but it’s living in the quiet little town of Painchton, Scotland, that shows her how far she is from home.
Keiko has never met friendlier people than the Painchton Traders. Only the Pooles, the butchers below her second floor apartment, want to keep their distance. Murray Poole attracts her right away. Mrs Poole puzzles her—is there more than recent widowhood behind all that sadness? And then there’s Malcolm. Massive and brooding, he hints at something dark behind the bustle and banter of this strange little town.
For such a settled place, a lot of young women seem to leave. But the more Keiko discovers the less she believes, until she can’t tell where her fears end and the real nightmares begin.