Title: The Black Sheep
Author: Sophie McKenzie
Published: February 1st 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: 3.5 stars
Francesca was widowed a year ago. Since then she has focused on her children, trying to soothe their grief as well as her own. Her husband and father never quite saw eye to eye but no one could have cared more for her in the past year than her close-knit family. Finally, she feels she might be ready to move on with life.
Until she is contacted out of the blue by someone who says he must get information to her. That her husband’s death wasn’t what it seemed. And that her family know more than they say …
Who can Francesca trust? And what will happen to her if she puts her faith in the wrong person?
In 2014, I recall enjoying Sophie McKenzie’s domestic psychological thriller offering, Trust in Me. Sophie McKenzie returns with a brand new novel, The Black Sheep. This is another tense psychological mystery, based around a tight-knit and highly devoted catholic family.
Just shy a year after the unexpected and unsolved death of her husband Caspian, Francesca and her family join together in their grief, still fresh, in a memorial service for Caspian. At this service, Francesca is approached by two men. The first is Simon, who was a colleague of Caspian’s. Simon takes insensitivity to the next level when he attempts to ask Francesca out on a date – at her deceased husband’s memorial. It is an offer Francesca immediately refuses. At the same service, Francesca is also approached by Harry, a stranger who claims to have vital information pertaining to Caspian’s death. Francesca desperately wants to know more about Caspian’s death. The police ruling that Caspian was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, has never really sat well with Francesca. Now, she finally has proof in the form of Harry’s admission that someone close to both Caspian and Francesca wanted him dead.
After reading The Black Sheep, I was dismayed to see a number of negative reviews attached to this novel. It seems a shame, as there are many elements in this novel that I enjoyed. I could see some of the holes and areas other readers picked up on, but on the whole, I believe The Black Sheep is a solid read.
Sophie McKenzie is an author that knows the key ingredients needed to create a good domestic thriller. The Black Sheep is told in a shifting perspective style of narrative, where the narrative is split between lead Francesca, her sister Lucy and outsider Harry. This works to heighten the tension in the novel. I found myself glued to this novel for the first half and then my attention seemed to lag in the middle, then pick up again towards the close. There is a detailed back story involving each of the lead characters, as well as supporting players. Eventually, these are all linked to Francesca’s family and I think McKenzie does a good job of building these aspects of the story for the reader.
The main subject matter focus in The Black Sheep is religious fanaticism, entrenched family secrets and abortion. All of these heavy topics combine, to create an intricately woven mystery novel. A word of warning though, if you have difficulty with the delicate matter of abortion, this novel may incite a reaction. I recommend that you think twice about selecting this book to read. One of the main events in the novel that ties the whole purpose of the narrative, as well as central mystery together, is based around the after effects of an abortion.
McKenzie portrays the closeness of family in The Black Sheep. She also gives the reader a good sense of what life is like living with parents and other close relatives who are absolutely devoted to a religion. It allowed me to sympathise with Francesca, particularly her life growing up as a teenager and young adult under the shadow of this strong devotion. Francesca was a character I had empathy for from the beginning, due to the situation she finds herself in – a widow, bringing up two children on her own. The supporting characters that flesh out the story all drew my suspicion but in The Black Sheep’s case, I guessed the culprit very early on into my reading on this novel. I later realised the title of the book is one big clue as to who is responsible for the tragic events that unfold in this novel. This is one of the pitfalls of the novel that I have to agree with other readers on, the sense of mystery in discovering the perpetrator of the crime was given away with too much ease and prematurely. A few extra twists to the novel and some unexpected character actions from a supporting protagonist, did add to the mystery.
Despite the mixed reviews of this novel by others, it did not hamper my overall enjoyment of The Black Sheep. A domestic thriller that rips apart the practices of an extreme family and tries to put an unsolved murder to rest, The Black Sheep is a good contribution to the mystery genre.
The Black Sheep by Sophie McKenzie was published in February 2017 by Simon & Schuster UK. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Learn more about the author of The Black Sheep, Sophie McKenzie here.