I had ‘The Invisible’ on pre-order because I’d gotten to know Lindsey Ryan in ‘While Nobody Is Watching’ and I wanted to know what she did next. I’d expected a continuation of the low-key but honest and insightful storytelling style of the first book. To my surprise and delight, while the honesty and insight remained, the storytelling was anything but low-key. I was ten per cent into the book and the tension was already almost unbearable. I could see that this wasn’t going to be a thriller that kept hinting at dark secrets buried in the past to create tension; it was a book that banged me, face-first, into a wall of unpleasant reality and promised that there’d be much worse to come.
The plot setup is fairly simple. Lindesy Ryan has established herself in the tiny town of Cobh running a very basic teashop in a ramshackle building that she bought cheap and has done up herself. She’s left her past and her friends behind in Cork City so that she can fight her PTSD demons somewhere where no one knows that she’s Corporal Lindsey Ryan, the Irish soldier that got so badly hurt by an IED when she was on a tour of duty as a UN peacekeeper in Syria. She’s keeping her head down as best she can. She, like everyone else, knows that there’s a brothel run by a violent crime boss two houses up from her café. The reality of what that means only becomes clear to her when a woman from the brothel falls, naked, used and beaten into Lindsey’s yard and the brothel owner comes looking for his property back and quietly promises dire consequences for Lindsey if this doesn’t happen.
I thought using Cobh for this story was inspired. It’s a pretty little town built on a steep hill on Great Island in Cork Harbour and connected to the mainland by a single bridge. Once the main point of departure for the millions of Irish emigrating to America, these days Cobh is mainly a tourist destination, famous for its colourful buildings. Showing that this pretty little place is home to something as banally evil as sexual slavery and that everyone in the town turns a blind eye is a powerful way of showing how human trafficking flourishes.
What I liked even more, was that ‘The Invisible’ doesn’t read like an attack on the concept of sexual slavery. It’s far more direct and personal than that. There’s nothing theoretical here, just the reality of callous abuse, human misery and public indifference. The storytelling is characterised by an intense immediacy that doesn’t allow for any emotional distance. Lindsey is confronted with the humanity of the abused and the unsensationalised brutality of the abusers. Once she sees this, she knows she can’t look away.
What raises ‘The Invisible’ above other thrillers, in my view, is that, while Lindsey Ryan is tough and competent, she isn’t invulnerable. She’s not some ex-special forces guy who always has a plan. She’s not Jack Reacher or Evan Smoak. She’s a woman so scarred by what’s already happened to her that death sometimes feels like it might be a release. But she can’t walk away from the evil next door. She refuses to have more people on her conscience. So she stands up and does what’s needed. But there’s no macho confrontation. No calling out of the bad guy. She’s trying hard to be seen as the tea lady next door until she can find a way off the island.
I found the story totally engaging, not in a ‘How will Lindsey get out of this?‘ intellectual way but more in a watching each scene from behind my hands and going ‘This is bad. Very bad. And it’s going to get worse.’ Lindsey is competent and brave but that doesn’t mean that she’s going to win and it certainly doesn’t mean that she’s not going to get hurt, on the other hand, it’s clear she’s not going to stop.
‘The Invisible’ is stronger because the other characters in the book, the ones who want to help Lindsey, the ones she wants to help and the ones who want to stop her, all seem very real. The book captures the reactions of people in a small town ridden by both fear and guilt and seeded with a little bit of hope, very well.
The ending caught me by surprise. It’s tough and plausible and not very pleasant.
I had a great time with this book and I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants a well-crafted, edge- of-theseat thriller that also engages unblinkingly with the ugly realities of modern slavery.