Review – The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry

By | January 6, 2014

You were loved and lost – then you came back . . .

Five years ago, three-year-old Dillon disappeared. For his father Harry – who left him alone for ten crucial minutes – it was an unforgivable lapse. Yet Dillon’s mother Robyn has never blamed her husband: her own secret guilt is burden enough.

Now they’re trying to move on, returning home to Dublin to make a fresh start.

But their lives are turned upside down the day Harry sees an eight-year-old boy in the crowd. A boy Harry is convinced is Dillon. But the boy vanishes before he can do anything about it.

What Harry thought he saw quickly plunges their marriage into a spiral of crazed obsession and broken trust, uncovering deceits and shameful secrets. Everything Robyn and Harry ever believed in one another is cast into doubt.

And at the centre of it all is the boy that never was . . .
Harry and Robin live a bohemian lifestyle in Tangier – drawn there for the light for their painting.  The birth of baby Dillon makes their lives complete, until a moment of carelessness when Dillon is alone and an earthquake strikes. The child’s body is never found – but neither were many others – and he is believed dead.  By everyone but Harry it seems – on their return to Ireland he has a breakdown, driven by his feelings of guilt at leaving the child alone.  Until he spots a child on a Dublin street who he is convinced is the lost child, and his obsession about finding him brings to the surface the secrets, lies and insecurities that have run through the marriage.  The ending is unexpected, explosive and shocking – and quite unexpected until a fair way into the book.

My enjoyment of this one was slightly diminished by the fact that I really didn’t like any of the main characters.  Harry comes across as an obsessed neurotic, and some of his actions – in Tangier and Ireland – are hard to forgive.  Robin is a bit of a doormat non-entity, loving Harry and turning a blind eye to many of his faults – although she too has secrets that undermine the marriage.  The story telling though is excellent – the settings are vivid, and the layering of secrets and lies is very well done, told in alternate chapters by Harry and Robin. The book’s climax is dramatic and thrilling, and not at all what I expected from the chapters that preceded it.  I’d say it’s two thirds taut psychological drama, one third thriller – and both elements are well handled.  This won’t be one of my reads of the year, but there was a lot here to enjoy.

My thanks to netgalley and Penguin Books UK for my advance reading e-copy. The Boy That Never Was will be published by Penguin on 27th March.

Karen Perry is the pseudonym for Paul Perry and Karen Gillece. 

Paul Perry is the author of a number of critically acclaimed books including The Drowning of the SaintsGoldsmith’s Ghost108 MoonsThe Orchid Keeper, and most recently The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance. A winner of The Hennessy New Irish Writer of The Year Award, he is a Lecturer in Creative Writing for Kingston University, London. 

Karen Gillece is the author of four critically acclaimed novels: Seven Nights In ZaragozaLongshore DriftMy Glass Heart and The Absent Wife, all published by Hachette Books Ireland. In 2009 she won the European Union Prize for Literature (Ireland). She lives in Dublin.