Saturday, 29 April 2017

Review: Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah

When I got my hands on this book I'm afraid it leapfrogged my 30-book-high to-be-read pile and I started on it immediately. I devoured it within 2 days! 2 days in which I was supposed to be doing other stuff, but I couldn't put it down.

The first half of the book is told from the point of view of Cara Burrows, an English woman running away from the (fairly minor) problem in her life. I can't tell you more about that, other than Cara wouldn't have a problem if she just learned to communicate with her family (husband and two children). When she asks for their opinion, and gets an answer she doesn't want, rather than plead her case she takes a chunk of money out of the family savings and heads off to a luxury spa in Arizona in retaliation. Although she does not tell her family where she is going, she does give them the date she plans to return - and then constantly checks their social media to see if they're missing her.

Cara arrives at The Swallowtail resort in Arizona full of self-righteous indignation, and completely disorientated from her flight. So when she picks up her key and goes into her room, it takes a moment for it to dawn on her that the room is already occupied by a father and his teenage daughter. Instead of quickly leaving Cara hides in the bathroom, making the situation worse, hearing them wake up and begin talking to each other - and discussing the person hiding in their bathroom ...

Later, when everything has been sorted out, it dawns on Cara that the man's 'daughter' may have been Melody Chapa, the most famous 'missing' child in America - her parents are currently in prison, suspected of her murder. But did Cara really see Melody, or imagine the whole thing?

I found Cara incredibly irritating but vastly entertaining - she comes up with some great one-liners towards the end of the book. I loved her friend Tarin, the 'Badass Mom', a florist who fancies herself as a sleuth. Tarin's relationship with her stroppy daughter is also entertaining, in an Eddy/Saffy (Absolutely Fabulous) kind of way. It's Tarin who perseveres with the 'is she/isn't she Melody' investigation (when Cara wishes Tarin would let the whole matter drop) and gets the police to take the case more seriously.

There is a lot of backstory, which I wasn't so keen on, telling the history of Melody's disappearance, the police investigation and the trials of the people suspected of murdering her. Some of this backstory is told in articles Cara reads online, some is told through transcripts of a TV show. The transcripts I found harder to concentrate on (they'd work better in a TV/film adaptation). I'm afraid I ended up skipping some because I wanted to get back to the story happening in the present. I wouldn't recommend doing this though, because I missed a fairly vital clue!

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. Sophie Hannah is a brilliant writer and there were lots of genuine twists I didn't see coming. Several times I thought I'd worked everything out, only to be thrown by another twist - particularly at the end. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes well-written mysteries, lots of twists, psychological suspense that's a little bit different, and stories with eccentric characters.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which isn't out until 24th August 2017.

Thank you to Sophie Hannah, Hodder & Stoughton, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Review: A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

I'm a sucker for a pretty cover, and it was the cover of this book that made me download it, as I had never heard of the author*. From the vintage look and the blurb, I got it into my head the story was going to be a glamorous 'golden age' murder mystery set on board a ship. A kind of Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey. In fact, the story is a very clever psychological suspense - one of those stories that slowly draws you in and builds up the tension until you can practically feel it closing in on you.

The story is about Lily Shepherd, who is travelling from England to Australia on the Orontes as part of the Government's assisted-passage scheme. Once she arrives, she will apply to work as a maid in one of the large houses in Sydney. It is 1939, and Britain is on the brink of war. Why would Lily want to leave her family, whom she loves very much, and travel to the other side of the world to work in domestic service - something she has sworn she would never do again?

Lily will be sharing her cabin with Audrey and Ida, two former chambermaids from Claridge's Hotel. While Audrey is friendly, Lily takes an instinctive dislike to Ida, who can't seem to say anything nice. At dinner, Lily finds herself seated on the same table as Edward and Helena Fletcher, a brother and sister who appear to have fallen on hard times. Lily is increasingly attracted to the good-looking Edward, but he seems to be obsessed with glamorous socialite Eliza Campbell. Eliza, meanwhile, takes Lily under her wing, paying for her excursions and lending her designer clothes - but are her motives entirely altruistic?

I loved the incredibly detailed descriptions of life on board the Orontes, and the places Lily visited, from the pyramids of Egypt to a Buddhist temple in Ceylon. I felt as though I'd travelled back in time and was taking the cruise along with Lily. The cast of characters, who all seemed to be running away from something, were fascinating. The author allows the reader to get to know character in turn, letting us discover their real personalities one flaw at a time. Which character's behaviour will result in their murder? Which character will be goaded into carrying out that murder?

A Dangerous Crossing is an absorbing and compelling read about an eclectic cast of characters forced into claustrophobic proximity with people they would normally cross the street to avoid. I loved it! Also, what a brilliant title!

If you love reading historicals with a bit of a mystery, or tightly-wound psychological suspense, you will love this book. If you're a fan of fast-paced murder mysteries then this might not suit, as the first murder does not take place until a good three quarters of the way through the book.

*Rachel Rhys is the pen name of Tammy Cohen/Tamar Cohen

Thank you to Rachel Rhys, Doubleday and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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