Lou is a good judge of character – she was a Customs Officer at the airport before yet another wave of “the virus” sent Melbourne back into lockdown, and she was made redundant. Her life now revolves around her nineteen-year-old son, Samuel. She’s suspicious of his girlfriend, Jessica, knowing instantly her perfect manners and sweet smile are fake. But despite her misgivings, she hopes that Samuel is staying with Jessica when yet another lockdown is announced, and he doesn’t return home in time for the eight-o’clock curfew. When she can’t contact Samuel at all, she starts to panic, despite Samuel’s father, Marko, telling her it’s just the alcohol she’s quaffing.
Lou is an interesting character, aware that the life she feels nostalgia for, is “a life I never really had”. Samuel is her focus, yet she is realistic about him and knows he is of an age when he will soon strike out on his own – hopefully eventually with a granny-flat for her. Lou thinks she has raised her son well: “I’d always, always, taught him to do the right thing, to be honest.” Samuel does contact her, but her instincts tell her something is off: “I’m trained to spot these things”.
Getting no help from Marko, who now has a family of his own and sees Lou as a nuisance that threatens their stability, Lou contacts a private investigator to help her find out what has really happened to Samuel. When they find out things are seriously amiss, the PI encourages her to contact the police. The reader discovers there are reasons why she is reluctant to do that, multiple reasons in fact – and finds that Lou herself might not be following her own advice regarding openness: What if the truth doesn’t set you free?
The setting of a pandemic lock-down adds a dimension of claustrophobia and familiarity to the atmosphere. And this is a ratcheted-up lock-down, with police and the military patrolling the streets. And despite there being plenty of traffic around, there are few pedestrians, so being followed home from a permitted exercise session, or seeing the shadow of someone at your door, are very creepy experiences.
The plot races along, with plenty of mis-directions, and reveal after reveal. The reader (well this one anyway) finds themself going back to re-read bits to see how they have misconstrued events. Lou really is the main character, the only other one that gets some depth is Samuel, but fleetingly. Marko is manipulative and selfish, and hard to understand. We find out a bit about Jessica, but don’t get to know her. Given the seriousness of the subject matter, and the horrendously bad decisions that have been made, only seeing things from Lou’s, unreliable, point of view means that heavy subjects are glossed over.
The most disappointing thing for me about Home Before Night is that I read it in paperback form, where almost a third of the book is a “sneak peek” at Pomare’s next novel. So, I was mentally unprepared for the novel ending where it did, as I was holding the heft of the remainder of the book in my hand. I was fully expecting more reveals and twists to come. Despite this, and some lack of depth in the novel, Home Before Night is a good atmospheric twisty thriller.