Book review: The last Night at Tremore Beach

The narrator’s premonitions on a stormy night are given such a prominent part of this story that the reader could be forgiven for having starting out with a bad feeling about the book itself. 

Mikel Santiago

Simon & Schuster, £12.99 hb

But despite the relatively ditzy premise this is a pretty solid performance — a decent character-driven drama where serious criminality erupts in a folksy and apparently harmonious community. 

Even if it is not startlingly original, it is quite entertaining and would be worth earmarking for the bottom of the luggage bag for an easy holiday read.

Spanish writer Mikel Santiago picks Donegal as the backdrop for the story. And what it lacks in incisive contemporary detail it offers instead as a kind of atmospheric landscape not beset by local preoccupations and knowing social tics. 

The backdrop has the feeling of being presented by a visiting international film crew.

Peter Harper is quite the inoffensive narrator. His marriage has ended but he continues to have a hands-on role with his two children and he’s at the early stages of a new relationship with a dead-on woman who runs the local hostel and craft shop. 

His agonies lie less in the domestic than in the artistic. Harper is a composer of TV movie scores but he has decided to avoid lucrative contracts for composing the music to an upcoming TV series in favour of something more personal and expressive. Much to his agent’s frustration he wants to be true to his art.

The first key event of the story occurs as Harper is about to leave home to join friends for dinner at their house. Storm clouds are gathering and as he walks out of his home he gets a strong sense that something bad will happen. He goes anyway and is struck by a bolt of lightning on the way home. 

The sparks that fly from this are psychic in nature. He recovers well from his physical injuries but his head pounds and the thoughts inside are becoming ever more vivid. At times he is unsure if he is dreaming or going through a disturbing experience where he and those around him are in mortal danger at the hands of some ominous gang who arrive in the tranquil landscape to cause some serious harm.

At the height of these dreams or realities or forebodings Harper’s actions require his brief commital to the psychiatric unit of the local hospital. 

The most satisfying stuff in the book comes out of this as the reader is left uncertain as to whether he can be trusted or, indeed, if those around him are safe from his increasingly physical reactions to perceived events.

Whether it is psychic insight or a neurological flaw it is something that Harper’s late mother also had. Of greater concern to him is that his son is also showing signs of the same thing.

Unlike many Irish novels where the roots of family run deep in a local environment, family is presented as something more amorphous here, with Harper a visitor in Donegal, his widowed father recently settled in Dublin, his estranged wife living in Amsterdam where his children go to school. 

The relationships he has in Donegal run deeper with those without roots in the area who have come to the county as a sanctuary from the pressures of City Life.

With all the premonitions it never descends into a fantasy spook-fest and instead ends with a flurry of box ticking of elements of standard crime genre. 

Interested as he is in the psychological underpinnings of premonitions, Santiago is happy to finish with wham-bam thriller action and things going bump in the night. And reader, he finds his musical mojo.


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