“He Said/She Said” by Erin Kelly (Minotaur, $25.99, 416 pages)
A solar eclipse attracts devoted followers who travel to the best sites to witness the phenomenon, aided by online forums, maps and social media. These eclipse chasers, who relish “celestial mechanics,” provide the background for Erin Kelly’s unusual and highly innovative novel, “He Said/She Said.”
Plenty of lore about the thrill of seeing an eclipse imbues the story, but it’s also a psychological thriller about a marriage, with a plot that delves deep into obsessions, secrets and how rape is viewed.
The best eclipse sightings also inspire the best festivals. Christopher “Kit” McCall and his girlfriend, Laura Langrishe, are celebrating the 1999 solar eclipse at a festival in Cornwall when they stop the apparent rape of Beth Taylor, a stranger to them. Their testimony at the trial that follows helps convict Jamie Balcombe.
Beth’s gratitude to Kit and Laura takes an odd turn as she insinuates herself in their lives. When the situation turns violent, the couple moves to a London suburb, uses other names and stays pretty much off the grid. They also want to escape the very public campaign waged by Balcombe’s wealthy family, which proclaims his innocence.
“He Said/She Said” alternates between the 1999 events and 15 years later when Kit and Laura are married and expecting twins. Still, the shadow of Beth hovers as the couple is fearful that, regardless of their precautions, she may find them. But now another eclipse looms, and the best place to view it is the Faroe Islands. Kit, who considers “real life as the boring bit between eclipses,” plans to go; Laura will stay home because of her advanced pregnancy. But the past has a way of intruding on the present.
“He Said/She Said” moves at a thoughtful pace, effectively depicting the aftermath of a crime and how lies can fester into unimaginable violence and hate. Alternating between years and points of view, “He Said/She Said” delivers a total look at its characters and how they change. Each plot point is unpredictable, especially the shocking ending.
“He Said/She Said” is a thriller to savor, and should be one of the highlights of the summer.