Flynn Berry’s Under the Harrow twists and turns and twists back again – setting up expectations and then redirecting them. Nora discovers the brutal murder of her sister – which leads to a reexamination of their trauma-filled past. Both women have had issues with impulse control – and Nora, especially, becomes increasingly volatile. Readers begin to doubt the reliability of just about everyone – suspects, investigators, and people from the past.
There is something very compelling about the slow reveal of the very close bond the two women have. The many idyllic meals and trips are told in flashback and each one reveals a bit more about the sisters’ relationship and complicated history. As close as they were, Nora keeps uncovering secrets – making the trauma she’s experiencing even more complicated.
The notable thing about Berry is her skill in understatement. She’s the master of “show don’t tell.” Nora narrates events and her own actions, but never indulges in emotive drama. For example, during the early stages of the murder investigation, Nora destroys property in the hotel where she’s staying. From this, we can intuit the unbearable pain and loss she’s suffering but she doesn’t explicitly tell us.
London and the seaside settings in England are revealed the same way – through the peregrinations of Nora, not through descriptive words and adjectives. The one exception is a trip to Cornwall. The scene of a happy time in the past, this part of the book has a magical glow, which makes what follows even darker.
In some ways, this book is a classic who-done-it – readers are kept guessing until the last pages.