Kala, a literary thriller set in the west of Ireland (think LJ Ross meets Colin Barrett), is being marketed as “the debut of 2023″ by Atlantic Books. I can see why they’re so excited – it’s a stonkingly good read, especially if you’re looking for something gripping, pacy and plot-driven without necessarily wanting to reduce yourself to the obvious middlebrow choices offered by the best-seller lists. Richard Osman, this is not.
The story is set in Kinlough, a fictional Galway, and centres around a group of friends; the timeline flickering between their lives in the present and their lives back when they were teenagers, starting bands, falling in love, seeking trouble – the usual. Kala, the kind, wild, messy yet lovabe fulcrum around whom the rest of the teenagers turn, goes missing and, in the present day, we see what’s left of the group trying to come to terms with this terrible loss.
So far, so predictable, and there’s no doubt that, as with almost all crime thrillers, there are moments when the plotting stretches ever so slightly too far. Why would they go back there, in the dark, alone, and tell no one? How has nobody questioned the lack of texts coming back from those girls? That kind of thing. But really, as one’s reading, these niggles are minor, since it’s Walsh’s character development, his ability when it comes to dialogue and his perceptive creation of inner worlds, that make the book stand out.
Perhaps, though, I’m biased, because the teen experience he describes in Ireland in the 2000s is a perfectly recreated, nostalgia-laden version of my own (Irish Millennials, it’s uncanny, you’ll love it). His ability to evoke the private moments between the girls – the words they use, their ways of seeing one another, even how they do their hair and make-up – is especially enjoyable to read.
There’s a teeny bit of self-indulgent philosophising shoehorned in, conceptions of how we experience time. These ideas are used to shape the book, but don’t actually add much. Also, don’t let the overwriting put you off; Walsh’s penchant for finding every possible new way to describe the sky aside, this is a masterful reworking of the whodunnit, one you’ll have immense difficulty putting down.