Unfolding in the shifting streets of Paris and the familiar backdrop of Belfast, ‘Exchange Place’ nips neatly between the two capitals in this intricately written story.
With short, punchy chapters and precise, beautifully crafted prose, Ciaran Carson delivers a well paced and intriguing novel which weaves deftly together the tales of John Kilfeather and John Kilpatrick.
They are two of a fair few Johns who creep up in the novel, although clarity comes as to who the reader is with on any one occasion through the use of first and third person narrative. The book’s format works cleverly, each chapter hopping from Kilfeather to Kilpatrick, loosely linking both men by way of a mysterious friend who has long since disappeared. Add in a missing notebook, strange sightings and encounters and Exchange Place quickly becomes a melting pot of questions clamouring for the flavour of answers.
For me, the turning point in the book occurred, rather neatly, more or less slap bang in the novel’s middle.
At the very end of chapters 17/18 the reader, who has until now been cheerfully following the two narrative streams in parallel fashion, is delivered some interesting news on the mystery of Kilfeather and Kilpatrick’s absent friend.
From here on in, the novel subsequently hurtles on towards its rather unexpected and therefore, expertly crafted, denouement, each scene with Kilfeather and Kirkpatrick like a series of snapshots taken in quick succession by an enthusiastic photographer.
Of course, all along, Exchange Place has maintained its compelling narrative but this second half most definitely feels like the roller coaster tipping over its highest slope and racing, with a few more twists and turns, to the end of the line.
What the reader may have supposed to be the case is, well, very likely to require a re-think, as we visit Memory Palace for a deft description of just what has been going on – identities unhooked and laid bare.
Exchange Place will make you wonder, make you sit up, make you want to read on and then… it will very possibly make you want to re-visit the roller coaster.