The glistening tendrils of a mother’s love are endlessly eternal and comprehensively far-reaching. Indeed, the mother/child bond is one that can never be broken – regardless of precipitating factors and circumstances.
Such elemental truths are beautifully illuminated and forensically examined in phenomenally talented New Zealand (he now resides in Melbourne) author, J (Josh) P Pomare’s, latest stellar psychological thriller, Home Before Night.
In the novel’s prologue, an anonymous woman very nearly drowns in a cruel rip at an otherwise tranquil beach. When all seems lost, her partner rescues her, and life once again becomes ordered, restored and very good again. Or does it?
Fast forward in time, and the novel’s female protagonist and former worker in airport security (she has taken a redundancy payout), Lou, is a middle-aged single Mum living in the perpetually busy metropolis of Melbourne, in an apartment on a busy street, in the wistful time preceding and then during a stern lockdown due to the coronavirus epidemic. Residents in Melbourne have been advised that everyone must be at home by 8pm on a particular night, and must then stay at that residence for four weeks, not go more than five kilometres from said residence, and only go out to exercise.
Lou, a vehemently loving, devoted and involved mother to nineteen year old university student, Samuel, is becoming in turns worried, anxious, fearful and fretful when Samuel is unable to be contacted, and the 8pm deadline is threateningly looming large.
Samuel’s father and Lou’s ex-husband, Marko, is of little help when Lou phones him, seeking Samuel’s whereabouts. Marko now has a new family of his own (and in contrast to the depressed and fragile, smoking and frequently drinking Lou, has a life that appears to be wonderful), and pays little heed to Lou and her (to him) annoying verbal permutations about Samuel and her (to Marko) pathetic life.
Lou is hoping that Samuel is with his daintily pretty, yet casually irritating (to Lou) girlfriend, Jessica (also a Melbourne university student). Lou doesn’t trust Jessica for a number of reasons, not least because because she doesn’t want an alcoholic drink when she is visiting Lou and Samuel at Lou’s apartment, and also because Jessica says she is religious (her father is a minister).
Fuel for Lou’s angst is delivered ferociously when Lou believes she is being followed on her daily walk. When she relates this piece of information to Marko, he thinks her completely unhinged and ‘off track’. Added to Lou’s drinking problem, Lou’s ‘ramblings’ are a source of scowling pity from Marko.
When Lou receives a video call from Samuel after a day has passed, saying that he is staying at Jessica’s place, Lou is robustly relieved, her fears all seemingly allayed. Or are they?
Lou is sure Samuel is hiding something from her, but what? Why can’t she see Jessica on the video call? Why does Samuel say that ‘he’ and not ‘she’ is looking after him? Is it a slip of the tongue, or is it a mask for something else going on? Why does the room Samuel is in look decrepit and peculiar?
In sheer desperation and full of tumultuous angst, Lou hires a private investigator, the smooth-talking, but highly efficient American, Reid. Lou gets help from Reid (for an eye-watering “ninety-five dollars an hour plus expenses”) to look into Jessica and where on earth Samuel could actually be (Lou doesn’t know Jessica’s address or phone number). What does Reid dig up on Jessica, and the seemingly responsible Samuel? As Lou tells Reid of her conversation with Samuel via video call, “I could tell when we spoke that something was off – he was different, he was keeping something from me”.
Why doesn’t Lou feel she can go to the police to track down where Samuel is in lockdown? Lou has always drilled into Samuel to be always honest and never keep secrets, but what deep and dark secrets are Lou hiding? What is Marko hiding?
Lou reflects to herself after chatting to Marko, “Marko doesn’t know anything about me or my life, but I know about his. I know what he did and if his secret came out, his perfect little life would come crashing down”.
Josh has written a meandering and cautionary psychological thriller that is overflowing with intelligence, coupled with supreme powers of observation. Character development is nuanced and chilling, the detail sublime.
Bravo Josh! You have knocked it out of the ballpark with this one! I found myself turning the pages faster and faster as my reading of the novel progressed. I was hooked from page one until I’d read the final word in this transformative novel.
I loved Home Before Night, and am looking forward to reading Josh’s next novel, a thriller that is due out in 2024, Seventeen Years Later.
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