Black Cairn Point is published this month by Hot Key Books, and tells the story of a camping trip in Scotland gone terribly, terribly wrong. Dark, edgy and full of an incredibly creepy atmosphere which seeps off the page, I was totally wrapped up in this atmospheric supernatural novel.
Two survivors, one terrible truth.
Heather agrees to a group camping holiday with Dougie and his friends because she’s desperate to get closer to him. But when the two of them disturb a pagan burial site above the beach, she becomes certain that they have woken a malevolent spirit. Something is alive out there in the pitch-black dark, and it is planning to wreak deadly revenge.
One year later Heather knows that she was very lucky to escape Black Cairn Point but she is still waiting for Dougie to wake from his coma. If he doesn’t, how will she prove her sanity, and her innocence?
A chilling and atmospheric thriller from unflinching and award-winning writer Claire McFall
The book is told in parallel, between modern-day Heather and her internal narration of the events of that weekend away at Black Cairn Point, which ended with only two survivors, one of whom is in a coma.
The unraveling of the story of what happened on their camping weekend, five teenagers away for a relaxing break on a beach, contrasts sharply with Heather’s stubborn battle with her doctor, on the anniversary of the events, and lends a strange sort of reality/unreality dichotomy to the story.
I really enjoyed the book almost the whole way through – it’s dark and atmospheric, and creepy beyond words, as Heather is so jaded and damaged by the events she went through, that she tries not to relive them mentally, although the reader sees it unfurl in her mind as the book progresses.
The dynamic of the group was certainly interesting – Heather and her crush, Dougie, and his friend Martin. But to keep the gender balance, they’ve also got Heather’s friend Emma and her boyfriend. The uneasy alliance of five teenagers leads to conflict as Martin and Darren, the boyfriend, butt heads. I really enjoyed this, as it’s a familiar situation – who hasn’t been fifth wheeling and disgusted with some utter tool that your friend has gone gooey-eyed over?
Heather, Martin, and Dougie go searching, and find an old cairn – for which the area, Black Cairn Point, is named. Dougie finds a relic, and takes it with him. And that’s where things start to go wrong
From there, things only get worse, as the atmosphere deepens, and inexplicable events start to occur. Heather becomes convinced that a malevolent spirit is out to get them, thanks to the relic that Dougie took from the cairn, and the strange happenings all around her certainly seem to back that up.
In the present day, Heather’s in a therapist’s office with a horrid, smarmy, generally execrable doctor who’s attempting to convince Heather to confess to having done terrible things to her friends. Heather, a year into this process, is stubbornly refusing to engage with the doctor, but cannot help but reflect on what happened a year previously. The doctor was a truly odious character, and I was right there along with Heather in wanting to give him a good punch in the jaw. The chapters didn’t quite alternate, but the two narratives were parallel. The current story seemed to fade into the background, however, serving mainly as framing for Heather’s recollection of the previous year.
I had one major complaint about this book, which was enough to knock it down to a good, but not great read, and it came near to the end. Very near to the end, actually.
I don’t want to say what the actual disappointment was, because it’s quite the spoiler. Suffice it to say, it has to do with the unreliable narrator trope, and is similar to Sinéad’s complaint about Dangerous Girls, especially given the nature of an internal monologue. It could have been easily avoided by changing the structure of the book – rather than an internal reconstruction of the events at Black Cairn Point, why couldn’t the book simply have been Heather telling it to someone else? That would side-step all issues entirely.
I know that all books are built on some kind of conceit (a chosen one, improbable circumstances, ridiculous happenstance) but this one really irked me – probably because I was only thinking about it recently, when Sinéad mentioned it.
Enough for me to, disappointingly, end this book with a bad taste in my mouth.
HERE BE SPOILERS
AVERT YOUR EYES
So I hate writing spoilery reviews, but I really think I did a pretty poor job of explaining what my issue was above, so I’m going to write it pretty clearly here.
My big problem with this book is that the parallel story which Heather is reliving in her head is unreliable in terms of some pretty major details. The trope of an unreliable narrator is fine, but it seems a bit of a conceit to think that, a year after the events at Black Cairn Point, Heather would be internally lying to herself about what happened, when nobody is listening to her thoughts, nor can they possibly. The way in which the events are framed, that it’s an entirely true recollection, because it’s an internal narration, is disingenuous. I have no issues with unreliable narrators – I loved Gone Girl, for instance. But the essential difference there was that the diary was a plausible way for a narrator to be unreliable. You also know that Nick is hiding something – and you’re not inside his head. There’s no way someone would censor their internal thoughts like that, when they’re something private to the character. There’s just no logical reason for it. As I mentioned above, if the events at Black Cairn Point were laid out to us as Heather giving testimony, or talking to a therapist, or if it was someone reading out or retelling what Heather had told them before, that would make a ton more sense than Heather’s entire internal recollection being a lie, and not giving any indication as to the fact. Twists at the end of books are all well and good, but a ‘supernatural’ book like this is just frustrating – not in the actual sequence of events. I’m perfectly happy with that. I just think it could’ve been framed much better.