It’s rare nowadays for an author to evoke feelings upon a reader so strong that their senses actually pick up on the descriptions in front of their eyes. You can feel the Indian Summer humidity on your skin, smell the freshly mown grass, taste the Grey Goose vodka martini on your tongue. It’s an unusual and beautiful talent for an author to have and it’s that exact quality that makes Liza Klaussman’s Tigers in Red Weather so wonderfully absorbing.
Set after the Second World War and spanning the 40s, 50s and 60s, Tigers is the story of cousins Nick and Helena, who grew up together amidst the glamour and sultry heat of their holiday home on the East Coast of America, Tiger House. The post-war era hasn’t been kind to the once blithe young ladies and when Nick inherits the holiday house she wants nothing more than to recapture the magic of her childhood for her daughter, Daisy, and Helena’s son, Ed. With an intoxicating backdrop of lies, cocktails and parties, a horrific murder threatens to reveal shocking secrets and tear them all apart, for good.
Tigers in Red Weather is essentially a murder mystery, exploring issues of marital complacency, psychosis and the idealistic concept of happiness. It centres on damaged people, trying desperately to hold on to the things they love most, as well as the things they’ve fallen out of love with because they don’t know how to let go. Wrapped up in terrible and all-consuming lies, Tigers sizzles from start to finish with a dark undertone that’s whipped up in the first chapter and doesn’t stop until the last page. It’s beautifully written, albeit occasionally difficult to hold on to, but that’s part of the riveting charm. You have to bury your head deep into the book to keep up with the changing timelines and different character perspectives.
What works so well for Tigers is the range of characters and their development throughout the course of the story. It’s difficult to know who you should be rooting for and your allegiances shift constantly. Main characters Nick and Helena are not particularly likeable, though both have their moments. These are woman who pre-war were vibrant and filled with a zest for life. As teenagers they would have been the two girls getting into trouble and loving every minute of it. As adults they’re broken, damaged beyond repair. The war has tainted them and they can’t find their way back to their old carefree selves. Nick is self-seeking and lost, filling the void in her marriage with harmless and not so harmless flirtations. Helena is just as lost but for different reasons; her ‘full of hopes and dreams’ attitude makes her the perfect target for the inevitable downfalls of life, marriage and children. Their husbands and offspring are no different, all are inflicted with internal struggles, suffering on their own instead of reaching out to find comfort in each other. As an outsider looking in on their lives you see how easy it is for people to drift apart when lies and secrets engulf them.
Nick’s daughter, Daisy, acts as the only light in the story, a bright relief from the dark and disturbing mysteries following her family. It’s in Daisy that we see the new changing world, a world untouched by the harshness and tragedy of war. She has the inner-strength of her mother, which makes her instantly endearing, without the pain and insecurities that Nick carries like an ugly scar. Daisy perfectly represents a young girl growing into a young woman and she provides redemption for even the most deranged and disturbed characters.
Tigers in Red Weather is twisted and thrilling in the best of ways; you’re relentlessly dying to turn the page to see what happens next, but you’re also a little frightened about what you might find. This unpredictable dark tone creates that same beautiful and damned vibe that The Virgin Suicides had, the words provoking an unsettling feeling of simultaneous wonder and terror. Klaussman’s style of writing is sophisticated and peculiarly affecting, with her flair for description driving the story. Her characters are refreshingly and realistically complicated and there’s never a right or wrong answer, just different perspectives. Tigers is a sultry, assured and gripping debut novel that leaves you craving for more.