Her Name Was Rose

Claire Allan leaves 'Chick Lit' behind in favour of a dark thriller which, for the Derry-based author, signals a bright new chapter

Claire Allan is a familiar and successful name in Irish literary circles. The Derry author has been writing professionally since 2007 – publishing eight novels under the Poolbeg Press imprint and establishing a loyal and devoted readership for her distinctive brand of light romantic fiction, which is often snobbishly characterized as Chick Lit.

For anyone under any of those pretentious illusions about the genre, for a writer to survive and thrive in such a competitive environment to the extent that Allan has, there can be no doubt at all that she is a great writer and storyteller.

Even so, it is a brave decision for any writer with such a clearly defined and faithful fanbase to change tack and move into a different genre, and a brave publisher who will take the commercial gamble to join them on the journey. But that is exactly the proposition of Allan’s ninth and latest book.

Her Name Was Rose is billed as a thriller and published by Harper Collins – global giants of the bookselling business. With a promise of dark themes and some murky subject matter, the book sees Allan make a foray into Crime Fiction, and move away from her Chick Lit roots.

The book places you firmly in the new genre from the very first page, with a shocking event that jolts the reader’s imagination into overdrive and to a series of intriguing and unanswered questions, before sending them on an addictively readable journey of discovery that twists and turns its way over 350 high-paced pages that pass in the blink of an eye.

If the hallmark of quality crime fiction is that it keeps you guessing and scheming, unsure of who to trust and who to believe, then Her Name Was Rose ticks all the b. We have a cast of characters that fill a spectrum from wide-eyed naivety to transparently calculating, and all stops in between, and a writing style from Allan that builds detail around them – bringing them to life and building some real empathy in the reader.

This style is reflected in the pacing of the book. Whilst the narrative drives on relentlessly, this is initially largely character led as we are drawn into the world that Allan creates, with the events that drive the twists and turns mostly coming later in the story.

In a further nod to the noirish thriller genre, we experience these dark events on the streets of Derry, Allan’s home town, and the sense of place becomes a part of the story, providing solidity and continuity in some very uncertain times for the protagonists.

There are clear nods towards Allan’s earlier work throughout the book – we experience the story through a pair of female first person narratives that give us an internal monologue, and there is a strong presence of social media throughout the stories. This clearly draws on her strengths and is very relatable for the reader – underlining the normality and humanity of characters despite some of the shocking and dark incidents that surround them.

There is no need to give any plot spoilers here – My Name Was Rose is an absolute pageturner that will keep readers hooked from start to finish. It is one of those books that you will gladly lose four or five hours of your life to and sit up through the wee small hours to finish.

The gift of great writing is often that your interest in the fates of the characters that are constructed overrides your immediate interest in your own real life that surrounds you, and this book achieves that in spades.

For Allan it is a departure, but for this reviewer there is still a more to come from her. Although billed as a thriller, My Name Was Rose feels like a transition from her previous work into a new voice, bringing some of the strongest elements of romantic fiction into a crime genre.

Whilst this will undoubtedly help Claire Allan to bring some of those loyal readers with her on the next step of her creative journey, there is also a sense of lots more to come in terms of the dark, noirish depths that she might plumb in the future – and that can only be looked forward to if this first foray is anything to go by.

Her Name Was Rose is now available from Harper Collins and will be launched by Brian McGilloway at No Alibis Bookstore, Belfast on Saturday June 30, and at Derry Central Library on Monday July 2.