When done haphazardly, the frequent use of flashbacks and scene-switching by a writer can be confusing and jarring.
But when done expertly, as Maggie O'Farrell does in her sixth novel, Instructions for a Heatwave, the result is literary legerdemain. The drama escalates, the plot unfolds and the reader buckles in for the ride.
Instructions for a Heatwave is a taut, multilayered story of a somewhat splintered Irish family in London who are forced to come together when Robert Riordan, the father of three grown children and husband to a dutiful wife, goes missing.
During the search for their father, the marriages of the two eldest, a brother and a sister, are revealed to be unravelling.
Set during the unbearably hot weather that enveloped London in the summer of 1976, long-simmering misunderstandings between two sisters, one of them apparently dyslexic, are also brought to a boil.
This is as much a mystery tale as it is a stark study of an ordinary, dysfunctional family, told in an extraordinary way.