Beautiful Animals

A Novel

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"Let’s not mince words. This is a great book. Truly difficult to put down... sophisticated, smart and uncomfortable, and the story is cracking."  Lionel Shriver, Washington Post 

"Startlingly good...Osborne has been described as an heir to Graham Greene, and he shares with Greene an interest in what might be called the moral thriller.” – Katie Kitamura, New York Times Book Review

"A seductively menacing new thriller by Lawrence Osborne...who unites Graham Greene’s fondness for foreign soil with Patricia Highsmith’s fascination with the nastier coils of the human psyche.” –NPR’s “Fresh Air"


On a hike during a white-hot summer break on the Greek island of Hydra, Naomi and Samantha make a startling discovery: a man named Faoud, sleeping heavily, exposed to the elements, but still alive. Naomi, the daughter of a wealthy British art collector who has owned a villa in the exclusive hills for decades, convinces Sam, a younger American girl on vacation with her family, to help this stranger. As the two women learn more about the man, a migrant from Syria and a casualty of the crisis raging across the Aegean Sea, their own burgeoning friendship intensifies. But when their seemingly simple plan to help Faoud unravels all must face the horrific consequences they have set in motion.

In this brilliant psychological study of manipulation and greed, Lawrence Osborne explores the dark heart of friendship, and shows just how often the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions.

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Beautiful Animals



High up on the mountainside above the port, the Codringtons slept through the dry June mornings in their villa shaded by cypresses and by awnings rolled down over the doors. They lay in pajama-clad splendor among their Byzantine icons and paintings of Hydriot sea captains, unaware that their daughter Naomi had taken up early swims, that she dressed in the cool of her own room an hour before daylight, half reflected in a wishbone mirror. She put on a cambric shirt with French cuffs and a leather thong necklace, slung a small denim beach bag over her shoulder and then made her way down the whitewashed steps that ran below her father’s house. She walked to the port along a narrow helix of steps, through landings with iron grilles and sudden views of the sea where the stone arches retained the nocturnal cool; the wild lots with their signs reading Poleitai and the marital bedrooms now open to the sky and filled with motionless butterflies.

Down by the town Naomi passed the Hotel Miranda with its chained anchor strung against a wall and a door that opened into a secret garden sunk in a blue glow of plumbago. A priest sat on the step as if waiting for something, and he gave her a nod. They knew each other without knowing each -other’s names. The holy beard that remained the same, the girl who walked with silent steps summer after summer as if she couldn’t hear anything around her. At the toy port she walked around the overpriced yachts without stopping at the cafes. She climbed above the tourist harbor and out onto a path above the sea, silent in her espadrilles at first, then singing and counting her own steps. She passed a row of cannons set into the wall, the monument to Antonios Kriesis, wind-shredded agaves leaning like totems out of the hillside. She went around the island northward on a track that led to the little bay called Mandraki, a place where her Greek stepmother often said the waters never moved. She had never discovered why piles of rusted machinery lay by the side of the path, boilers and girders, cement mixers long ago pitched among the flowers.

At the crest of the hill above Mandraki there were a few imposing villas with long walls around them, their door knockers shaped as heads of Athena. Below it the bay held a run-down little resort called the Mira Mare where, on the beach, a small seaplane had been dragged up and its windows covered with screens. Frames of parasols with no straw lay in disorder in the lot behind the beach, but past Mandraki the path was uncontaminated. It wound toward Zourva through scrubland hillsides, and there great fields of stones swept down to the water in a blistering wind. The water was almost black before the sun rose high enough to lighten it. This was where Naomi always swam, sometimes half hoping to die, until she was too cold to continue and her fingers went numb.

She never told her father and Phaine about her morning swims and there was no need for them to know. What would they have said? Solitude was a value that meant nothing to them. They wouldn’t have understood that every morning she felt the same listless and vague expectation, the same dissatisfaction with the tempo of the world as she knew it. She sometimes thought that she had internalized this perpetual disappointment since childhood, though she could never quite put her finger on her unconscious reason for doing so. Or perhaps it was the island itself. The summers that went on forever, the afternoons too hot for purely animal activities. And worse even than these, the ancient bohemians whom her father and stepmother mingled with. The stunning emptiness of it didn’t even bore her; it made her feel superior to hedonism and the island’s but without being able to suggest an alternative to herself.

Afterward she dried herself on the stony slopes among the wasps. She wrote in the small diary she carried with her while across the straits lay the low and promising shadow of the mainland. Beyond the haze lay the Argolid and the jetty at Metochi, both too far off to really see. It was usually eight or so by the time she had walked back to Mandraki and wandered into the resort looking for a coffee. High above the cove, raw mountainsides held up a white sanctuary in the first sunlight. She had always, during her childhood, imagined saints living there, hermits beaten by winds. But they had never appeared. The boys laying out the umbrellas and regimented loungers on the strip of sand knew her by now. The flirtations had subsided and they regarded her increasingly with a sullen scepticism because she had, a hundred and one times, rebuffed their advances.

Before long, her eye was drawn to the lines of navy towels spread out on the sun loungers in the heat. It was shabby but secluded; sometimes the former was the price for the latter. The bay was so small that the ocean in front of it possessed a wide-angle immensity in comparison with the cramped beach. There, in any case, two women had already arrived, clambering down from the path with their beach bags, straw hats quivering as they moved, with the prudent agility of beetles.

They lay on two loungers and the boys came down to them with trays of iced water, and it was clear that they came there every day and that the staff knew them well. They probably ordered breakfast and lunch with plenty of alcoholic drinks in between, because there was a familiarity in the manner of the Greeks. The resort was dying, paying non-guests were as vital as guests. It was an older woman and a young one, perhaps a mother and daughter. But Naomi didn’t recognize them from the endless parties to which her father and stepmother were invited and to which she also subjected herself since there was nothing else to do on the island. They weren’t famous, then, and they weren’t the Beautiful People and Jimmie and Phaine probably didn’t know them either. Nevertheless, here they were, drinking their coffee out of big blue cups and flicking away the flies with—of all things—a pair of tropical-weather fly whisks. The girl was remarkably fine, slender, spun-gold hair, too white for that sun, which made her eyes look even more desperate and avid. When the light hit them they gave off the inhuman glow of blue gemstones. The whisks were amusing and she inwardly approved, even when the accents floated over and seemed to suggest they were American. So they were, and before their coffee was consumed they had looked up at the British girl with her yogurt and honey on a wooden spool and their eyes filled with a light and homely curiosity. You too, at Mandraki?

The female half of the Haldane family had discovered the cove the very first day they arrived on the boat from Piraeus. They had gone on a long walk around the island themselves, without Mr. Haldane, and if Amy thought about it she would have had to admit to herself that she always made the best discoveries when her husband wasn’t around to spoil it.

“It was Samantha who found it—she asked the cleaning women at the villa, which was very clever. But I think you got here before us.”

“I’ve been coming here for years,” Naomi said with deliberate weariness.

“So you know—”

The other girl was younger than Naomi, maybe nineteen or twenty to her twenty-four, with eyes that were steady and cool: perhaps like herself a student of human beings and their calamities.

“You live here?” she said, calmly interrupting her mother.

“My father has a house. He’s had it since the eighties.”

“Lord,” the mother said. “We’ve stumbled on an expert. He’s really been here that long? So you must have grown up here.”


“Summers on the island. We have a summer house on an island in Maine almost as nice as this one. But we’re New Yorkers. Maybe we know your father?”

She was a little eager, and Naomi had to tamp her down.

“I don’t think so. My father and stepmother are quite odd socially.”

“My husband, you know—he’s recuperating from an injury. He came here to heal, and it didn’t seem like a bad idea. He’s recovering already—wouldn’t you say, Sam?”

“He’s already walking around on his bad foot.”

Naomi moved to the lounger next to theirs. She stretched out, and there was something in the unfurling of her body that drew attention to itself. A narcissist, the mother thought.

“I speak Greek,” Naomi said, smiling. “I can order anything you want. They have a lot of things off menu.”

The mother looked up at the waiters by the bar, and her mouth wavered.

“What about yogurt?” she murmured, pointing to Naomi’s abandoned breakfast. “I wouldn’t mind some yogurt.”

“Yaourti,” Naomi called over sharply. “Me meli.”

The heat crept to the back of their necks, and when it settled in behind their ears it refused to relinquish its quiet grip. Two trees hovered at the crest of the hillside, burning in their own gray light. They could sense dogs still asleep beneath them though they couldn’t be seen, and Naomi asked quietly what was wrong with Mr. Haldane.

“He went into a cage of monitor lizards at the zoo,” the girl said without expression, “and one of them bit his foot. It severed the tendons, and they have bacterial agents in their saliva.”

“Sam, really.”

The truth was he had fallen off a ladder while painting a greenhouse near Blue Hill.

“It’s embarrassing. Jeffrey is such a fool with ladders. But he broke his hip and his foot.”

“No lizards?”

Amy turned to her daughter. “I don’t think there were any involved.”

“He was in a wheelchair for a month,” Samantha said, “and now he’s on an island with no cars or bikes. He said that was the whole point—it would force him to walk. But now that we’re here—”

“He just sits in his chair painting all day.”

“Well,” Naomi said, looking up at the sky. “It’s kind of hard to do much else here. It’s what I do.” It was a lie but, as far as she could tell, they didn’t spot it and she didn’t care if they did.

They talked for a while. It was the banter of people of similar social standing subtly divided by a common language. Seabirds circled overhead and there was no music; the bouzouki for the tourists was not yet necessary. They could hear only the water moving against the rocks and the first cicadas stirring as the sun encroached upon the hillside. The heat rousing all living things. Amy finally lay back and sank into her comatose sunbathing, and the two younger women decided to swim out together to the rocks of the outer cove. They went down to the water in a sun that now burned their faces and slipped in together. They swam very quietly, and it seemed to Naomi as they paddled with their hands below the surface that they had rubbed up together companionably in some unconscious way from the very first moment. One never knew why that was, but Samantha—she might as well call her Sam since her mother did—was cool and dry in a new way to her. She was the elder child of a wealthy father who, apart from his inherited money, was a retired journalist. Her fifteen-year-old brother was also back at the rented villa, playing chess with Mr. Haldane. Sam admitted she hadn’t really wanted to come but, as always, her mother had insisted. They had found the perfect house through friends in New York.

“It’s near Vlychos, but I guess you know it. There’s a donkey in the garden. Which I think is cool.”

“A donkey?”

“Well, it comes and goes.”

“I think I know the one—it’s Michael Gladstone’s house.”

“Then you do know it. He’s had it for years. Dad says it’s the best house he’s ever seen. But I think he means it’s the best house he’s ever been an invalid in. You?”

“We’re high up above the port. My parents bought it when they were young and Leonard Cohen was still living here.”

“That was smart of them.”

“They calculated it,” Naomi replied. “That’s the way my people are.”

They swam past a jetty tilted sideways into the water and surrounded by flotsam: iron posts with elaborate moldings, bright green fishing nets and wire racks. It was as if whole villages had been smashed by violent winds that winter and their debris scattered over the coast. Where the path turned the first corner, there were piles of discarded machinery. They got out here, lay on a small protuberance of rubble, and looked back at the beach. The sullen rows of sunloungers looked like discarded toys or mechanical refuse identical to the debris accumulated behind them. It was curious, as if the place were about to be abandoned forever. The signposts knocked flat, the mineral orange stains in the surfaces of the rocks. Even the reconstructed fort above them—if that was what it was—had the look of something thrown to the winds. And yet above, the white abode of saints shone in sunlight.

Sam’s mother had finally been approached by one of the boys and was talking up to him with unnecessary smiles. One never knew about mothers. Naomi’s own was long dead and the woman asleep at this very moment in her father’s arms far up the mountain was a different matter. But Amy had seemed normal at first, and now here she was flirting with the beach boys in aprons. Was it because her husband had a crippled foot for the summer?

She turned to Sam.

“You get on with your mother—I’m jealous. Mine is a stepmother. She’s not bad, but she’s not mine. Sometimes it’s a drag having to deal with her.”

After Sam had obliged with an “I’m sorry,” Naomi told her the story in a few sentences. Her father was an art collector and a philanthropist. Since he knew many people and bought a lot of art, he was the center of many people’s agitated attention. Her stepmother was Greek, from Kifissia in Athens, but the Kyriakou family had always been domiciled in South Ken-sington.

“She’s younger than yours,” Naomi went on, “and comes from an illustrious line of military fascists. I like your mother. She says what she thinks.”

“That’s a good thing?”

“It’s not a bad thing. There are worse things. Do you say what you think?”

“Not always. Don’t military fascists say what they mean?”

Naomi’s smile was easy to provoke, but it never developed fully. She controlled it in the way that a child manipulates a kite.

- About the author -

Lawrence Osborne is the author of The ForgivenThe Ballad of a Small PlayerHunters in the Dark, and six books of nonfiction. His short story "Volcano" was selected for the Best American Short Stories 2012, and he has written for the New York Times magazine, The New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, ForbesHarper's, and several other publications. He lives in Bangkok.

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Beautiful Animals

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Beautiful Animals

— Published by Hogarth —