Six Degrees of Separation: from The Lottery to Fallen Angel

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

The chain this month begins with  a (frightening) short story, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

The Lottery is a short story written by Shirley Jackson, first published in the June 25, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, (the link takes you to the story.) The lottery is an annual rite, in which a member of a small farming village is selected by chance. This is a creepy story of casual cruelty, which I first read several years ago. The shocking consequence of being selected in the lottery is revealed only at the end.

Once again I found it difficult starting my chain, and after several attempts I finally settled on an obvious choice of another one of Shirley Jackson’s stories for the first link.

First link: The Haunting of Hill House. Dr. Montague, a doctor of philosophy with a keen interest in the supernatural and psychic manifestations had been looking for a ‘haunted’ house to investigate all his life. So, when he heard the stories about the strange goings on at Hill House he decided he would spend three months living there and see what happened, and he set about finding other people to stay there with him. The house is connected with a number of tragedies – scandal, madness and a suicide. But nothing is what it first appears to be and I felt as if I was sinking into the story in a most unpleasant way.

The Second link: is to another house, in The House by Simon Lelic. It is set in a creepy house, full of junk, with an overgrown garden and with hints of the supernatural. Jack and Syd move in and then Jack found something nasty in the attic. There’s been a murder and this is a story about despair, domestic violence, dark secrets and the effects of the past on the present.

The third link: Simon Lelic also wrote The Search Party in which 16-year-old Sadie Saunders goes missing and five of her friends set out into the woods to find her. At the same time the police’s investigation, led by Detective Robin Fleet and Detective Sergeant Nicola Collins, is underway. When the friends get lost in the woods they make an incoherent phone call to the emergency services. The caller doesn’t know their location other than it is ‘somewhere in the woods‘ near an abandoned building.

The fourth link: Cal Hooper is also searching for a teenager in The Searcher by Tana French. Cal and thirteen-year old Trey Reddy live in Ardnakelty, a remote Irish village. Cal has recently moved to the village, wanting to build a new life after his divorce. He is a loner and wants a quiet life in which nothing much happens. But he finds himself getting involved in the search for Brendan, Trey’s older brother who had gone missing from home.

The fifth link: The Wych Elm also by Tana French Toby Hennessy, the narrator, is twenty eight. He is brutally attacked by burglars in his flat, leaving him in a terrible state, physically and psychologically damaged. He seeks refuge at the family’s ancestral home, the Ivy House. But not long after his arrival, a skull is discovered, tucked neatly inside the old wych elm in the garden. As detectives begin to close in, Toby is forced to examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his past, and himself. This is a psychological thriller, a standalone book, about a family in crisis, as dark family secrets gradually came to light.

The sixth link: The Temple family in Chris Bookmyre’s Fallen Angel is another family in crisis. The family is spending the summer at its seaside villa in Portugal for a reunion after the death of the head of the family, Max Temple, who was a psychologist. The last time they were all there together was in 2002 when one of the children had disappeared from the villa, and was presumed drowned. None of the family members are very likeable and there’s plenty of tension as they don’t get on well with each other! It’s a novel about a family in crisis, about toxic relationships and about the psychology of conspiracy theories. 

From a short and scary story my chain links two novels about scary houses, or rather the occupants of scary houses, two books about searches, and two about families in crisis.

Next month (November 6, 2021), we’ll start with Sigrid Nunez’s What Are You Going Through.

The Searcher by Tana French

Penguin| 5 November 2020| 400 pages| Review copy| 5*

I enjoyed The Searcher very much. For the most part this standalone mystery novel moves quite slowly, but it held my attention right from the beginning. It certainly isn’t a book to rush through, rather it’s one to savour. The main characters are Cal Hooper and thirteen-year old Trey Reddy living in Ardnakelty, a remote Irish village. After twenty five years in the Chicago police force, Cal has recently moved to the village, wanting to build a new life after his divorce. He is a loner and wants a quiet life in which nothing much happens. But he finds himself getting involved in the search for Brendan, Trey’s older brother who had gone missing from home.

Cal is a methodical man, slowly doing up his run-down cottage and getting to know the locals – his neighbour Marty, Noreen who runs the village shop, her sister Lena and above all, Trey. I liked the slow build up to the mystery, and I loved Tana French’s beautiful descriptions of the Irish rural landscape. It’s the sort of book I find so easy to read and lose myself in, able to visualise the landscape and feel as if I’m actually there with the characters, watching what is happening.

But this is no ‘cosy’ crime fiction novel. Trey is like a dog with a bone and won’t let Cal give up when it looks as though they will never discover why Brendan left and what had happened to him. I realised after a while what could have happened to Brendan, but I hadn’t foreseen the twists and turns in this book, one of which really surprised me. The ending is terrific. The tension builds and builds as Cal and Trey find themselves in danger. Above all, it is about family relationships, responsibility and friendship. It is atmospheric, spellbinding, and compelling reading. Tana French is a great storyteller.

Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my review copy.