After the death of her husband, David, Maggie struggles to run his wildlife park in Derbyshire with little emotional support. She attempts to befriend Louisa, her neighbour, who was close friends with David but is faced with reluctance. Louisa has seen many women come and go from his life and she still harbours an unrequited love stemming from their teenage years together. David also left behind a son, Christopher, who has problems of his own and resents his stepmother now that his father is gone.

It’s a strong, character driven novel. A widow trying to run her late husband’s animal park, a jealous and paranoid neighbour, obsessed with her birds, a mentally unstable teenager and a male prostitute. It’s an unusual cast and an unorthodox family of sorts and their actions may not always be forgiveable but they do make you care about them. It’s a great example of how you don’t have to like the strongest characters to enjoy a book.

Whilst the story starts out with an amusing tale of ibex loose in a Sainsbury’s carpark, the novel has dark undertones and isn’t about the animal park at all. There is much more about falconry however and the title comes from a falconry term:

Diamond’s story was written on his feathers – nothing sentimental or pretentious about that claim. When a falcon is undernourished, the feathers cannot grow properly. A fault line appears, even if the bird is fed again. The fault is called a hunger trace.

The characters’ starvation is of a much more emotional kind, but at what point did their hunger traces occur? It soon becomes apparent that all is not right with Christopher, perhaps David saw that as his punishment but Maggie does her best with him. Maggie does fade into the background a little but her loneliness is apparent. Louisa is the strongest character of all and has been deeply affected by her past with David. Adam is simpler and kind, but still has his own problems.

The flashbacks were all well placed and at no point was it confusing whether events were taking place in the present or past. Set in Derbyshire, there is some direct speech with Northern dialect but I would hope it makes sense in its context even if you don’t understand. Most of the main characters have had a more middle class upbringing and have been encouraged to lose their accents though, so it’s not going to be on every page.

The Hunger Trace is published by Simon & Schuster and is now available in paperback (although I much prefer the hardback cover). Thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.