Within the dark heart of an abandoned city lies a terrible secret…
Francis Benthem is a successful artist; he’s created a new life on an island in the sun. He works all night, painting elusive images at the request of his eccentric Russian benefactor. When he’s found dead his protege, the only attendant at the funeral, finds himself mixed up in a mysterious underworld that had previously entangled Benthem.
His quest to find out what happened to the Golden Orphans, and to uncover the private face behind the public mask that Illerian Prostakov wears, leads the reader into the thrilling, sometimes surreal world of an island like no other, deep into the troubled past of its people: a nation split in two by invasion and embattled by organised crime.
Combining the dark foreboding of a thriller with the luscious prose of literary fiction, The Golden Orphans offers an atmospheric modern fable that combines mystery and surrealism on the sunshine and scenery of Mediterranean island of Cyprus. It’s an unusual combination and one that is a little outside of my usual comfort zone but, despite some initial misgivings about the combination of Russian gangsters, troubled artists and Cypriot sunshine, I greatly enjoyed the book and raced through its 155 pages.
Beginning at the poorly-attended funeral of Francic Bentham, the novel follows his un-named protege as he becomes gradually entrapped within the surreal world of enigmatic Russian Illerian Prostakov; a man obsessed by a single image that taunts him in his dreams. As our un-named painter struggles to interpret his strange benefactor’s visions, he becomes embroiled in the history of Cyprus itself, from its current problems with trafficking and gangsters to old divisions created during the Turkish invasion. And at the heart of it all lies a ghostly city and the mystery of the Golden Orphans. Gary Raymond has packed a surprising amount of plot into this slender volume but it never feels too much. Instead, the gradual layering of each new strand adds to the mystery and the strange, trance-like existence that our narrator experiences on the island. It’s masterfully controlled and a testament to the strength of Raymond’s writing.
The setting is also beautifully realised and the hazy sunshine of Cyrus shines from every page. Lusciously written, Raymond provides the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that lure tourists to Ayia Napa every year, before peeling back the visage to reveal a hidden darkness lying underneath the glamorous parties and laid-back bars. The narrative also takes us back to the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, providing a fascinating glimpse of the derelict, abandoned spaces created by the establishment of the neutral zone in the wake of the conflict. The island really stars as a character in the book, providing a reality that our insecure, troubled narrator seems to lack at times. It’s an interesting contrast and, appropriately for a novel that so concerns itself with dreams and nightmares, adds to the dream-like quality to the narrative.
Given the accomplished setup and the numerous strands that Raymond weaves into a relatively slender novel, it was always going to be difficult to realise a fully rounded ending and, personally, I did find the final pages a little predictable and anti-climactic. That said, however, I don’t feel this is a novel that should be read simply to get to the end. Instead, it’s a journey that is designed to be savoured on each page. With a carefully crafted atmosphere, a deep sense of place, and a dark, foreboding overtone, The Golden Orphans combines shades of Graham Greene with the tension of Patricia Highsmith to provide a smart, taut literary thriller perfect that punches well above the weight that its slender format would suggest.
The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond is published by Parthian and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Emma from Damp Pebbles Blog Tours for inviting me onto the tour and organising everything!