Birthright, by Charles Lambert, is aptly described as a literary thriller. It has all the tension and page turning engagement of a psychological thriller but avoids any accusation of appearing formulaic. Characters are well developed and necessary to the plot, not just there as window dressing or to facilitate a twist. Although some may be described as attractive they are not overly so, and this is not an aspect unduly built upon. Rather it is ambition and flaws that are key in behaviour – how they act and are treated.
The story opens with a long married couple watching a television show that claims to offer a public service – trying to track down those who have gone missing from their families. A photograph of a young girl is broadcast, one who looks just like the wife at that age. Disconcerted she tries to brush aside the resemblance. Sometimes those who go missing have their reasons for wishing to disappear.
The timeline then moves back to the 1980s, when the two protagonists were sixteen years old. First we meet Fiona, the only child of a wealthy, English couple although her beloved father is now dead. Fiona does not get on with her mother and is angry that the long summers they spent in Italy with the family of her father’s friend and business associate have been curtailed. Educated at boarding schools, Fiona longs to feel wanted and loved, to be treated as the children of the Italian family were by their parents.
When she finds a photograph in a newspaper cutting her mother has kept of a young girl who looks exactly as she did at that age Fiona is intrigued. In trying to broach the subject, another biting row ensues. Back at school Fiona makes friends with a new girl, Jennifer, with whom she shares what she has found and is still pondering. Jennifer has a brother, Patrick, who she claims knows how to find people. Jennifer is more worldly than Fiona and knows something about sleuthing herself.
The second protagonist is Maddy, the only child of an alcoholic mother. They now live in Italy, where Maddy is a student, although she spent her early years in England. Maddy hates her life, loving her mother but resenting how much she is hemmed in by their poverty – caused by her mother’s long term hippy lifestyle. When confronted by her doppelgänger she reacts defensively, causing the privileged upstart to go behind Maddy’s back to get what she wants and feels she deserves. Fiona is not averse to using a friend as distraction, their reward being the welcome possibility of polishing ego.
Now, if that all sounds a bit rich girl, poor girl, seen this done before in a number of variations, fear not. There is enough innovation in plot and character to keep this story fresh. Although both girls may make mistakes in who they trust – often due to lust, but then they are young and virile – they are not fools. They are each also blessed with a loyal acquaintance offering practical support as well as a listening ear. As the story progresses and secondary characters reveal more depths, there is a pleasing lack of repositioning required – what went before continues to sit true.
The denouement is cleverly constructed, building on the undercurrents of nature, nurture and just how unknowingly interlinked identical twins’ psyches might be. Not all questions are answered but the reader may easily infer from what has been shared. Even the most shocking action is presented with a degree of validation – the author managing expected reaction skilfully.
The Italian setting may be unknown to me but added a dimension enabling some of the greater leaps in the name of required progression to land smoothly. A tale of two families, unhappy with good reason. A story I thoroughly enjoyed and consumed avidly.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Gallic Books.