Book Reviews

My Book Reviews for June 2021

My Book Reviews for June 2021 

My Book Reviews for June 2021 comprise a cat-and-mouse adventure, a US psychological thriller, an English missing person mystery and a superior short story. I also have news of my recent charity walk.

Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

I’ve never fancied a cruise and, given what I now know about maritime law from reading this novel, I’m not about to jump aboard when pandemic restrictions ease.

After 10 years of rejection, Irish film writer Adam Dunne has sold a script to Hollywood, but his celebrations are short lived because his girlfriend, Sarah, disappears on a work trip to Barcelona. The Gardaí don’t take Adam’s concerns seriously so he has to abandon script rewrites and head to Spain. His investigations lead him to Peter, a grieving British man whose wife disappeared in similar circumstances the previous year. They join forces and take a cruise on the ironically named Celebrate. Sightings suggest both women booked the same cruise, albeit a year apart.

The author takes us on a cat-and-mouse adventure on the high seas. (Fans of Tim Weaver will find much to enjoy here.) We see the opulent decks, where wealthy passengers eat, drink and sunbathe, and the less glamorous crew quarters.

As well as Adam’s bemused (and amusing) viewpoint, we get inside the heads of crew member Corrine and of Romi, a troubled boy growing up in France. I guessed some of the twists but was delighted by a few surprises that neatly tied the three timelines together.

Adam’s L.A. agent says his predicament would interest the moviemakers. He’s not wrong. Distress Signals would make a good film.

(I have now read an advance copy of Catherine Ryan Howard’s new lockdown-based novel 56 Days. It’s a belter. Review to follow.)

 

The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

I remember a true-life story of a child saved in a miraculous rescue from a storm drain. It seems that this same news story may have inspired Megan Miranda to invent a superb psychological thriller with a similar rescue as its inciting incident.

It’s twenty years since Arden, the novel’s main character, was rescued as a six-year-old from her fictional drain. The rescue captivated the world’s press whose interest kept up long after Arden was safely home again. Her mother appeared on chat shows and wrote a bestselling book. The royalties paid for Arden’s college fees and there was just enough left over to pay for Arden’s current house.

But the astounding rescue tale did not have a happy ending. The media were never far away and reignited the story every anniversary, prompting dozens of well-meaning and not so well-meaning members of the public to write Arden letters and troll her online. Her mother descended into various addictions, including an unrelenting need for fame. Arden changed her name to Olivia, left home and started a new life as a hospital manager.

Despite her total amnesia about the childhood accident and rescue, she’s been doing pretty well for a while, even managing tentative friendships with her colleagues, Bennett and Elyse, and cordial relations with her next-door neighbour, Rick. But one day Rick finds her sleepwalking in the garden and it seems the trauma of her past has resurfaced and her new life might be about to unravel. Her fears are compounded when someone in her grocery store calls her by her old name, Arden. When she sleepwalks into the garden again and wakes up to find herself standing over a murdered man, she knows she’s in big trouble.

Olivia is a likeable character despite her growing paranoia. She starts to doubt everyone around her. Why is neighbour Rick so keen to tidy the crime scene? Why have her belongings been moved after Bennett and Elyse visit her house? Why is the sleep specialist she’s seeing so keen for her to take part in a sleep trial? Is the son of the dead man trying too hard to say he believes her? Whose side is the lead detective on and what is her connection to neighbour Rick?

This was a different take on the psychological thriller with an unusual plot. I will look for other books by this author.

 

Home by Maryse Meijer

This well-written short story turns the vulnerable victim/sinister captor story on its head. The man tells ‘Ophelia’ she is way too young to be hanging round bars, but it doesn’t stop him offering her a ride. It’s not a ride home; the car goes straight to his house and he orders her through the door…

The story is the lead in Meijer’s collection, Heartbreaker, which looks like it might be something very special.

 

The Girl in the Missing Poster by Barbara Copperthwaite

This is another good psychological thriller from the ever dependable Barbara Copperthwaite. Dependable but not complacent, the author gives us fresh characters and inventive technique.

Stella lives a fairly stable life in a Lincolnshire seaside town. (This alone peeked my interest. I was born in a Lincolnshire seaside town and was pleased to see the area finally featured in a thriller.) But Stella has a sadness in her heart because she’s missing her twin sister, Leila. A film crew wants to make a documentary on the 25th anniversary of Leila’s disappearance. The film stirs up old memories not only for Stella but also for others who knew Leila, including people once considered suspects. Stella starts to rethink events and doesn’t know who to trust. Even members of the film crew appear to have hidden agendas.

Full marks to the author for enabling Stella to use her skills as a dog trainer in the course of the mystery. Her chosen career worked well in the story. The author’s way of presenting the documentary film demonstrated great ‘show not tell’ technique. It covered a lot of backstory succinctly but also gave insights into the personalities of various witnesses and suspects. I’ve read a few novels that feature true crime podcasts that often seem flat. That was not the case here. I did guess what happened but, rather than putting me off, this meant I finished the book with a smug and contented smile on my face.

 

As well as sharing my book reviews for June 2021, I’d like to mention the charity walk I took part in with my husband over the weekend:

13 Bridges

On Saturday we completed our sponsored walk in aid of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity:

13 London Bridges (Tower Bridge to Battersea Bridge)

14 crossings (We did Chelsea Bridge twice.)

10 miles

Plus 3 miles back to our hotel!

With 500 other walkers at staggered times throughout the day.

Last year SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity helped 79,558 people in need, from WW2 veterans to those who’ve served more recently, and their families.

We are still collecting donations and would be delighted with any support at all. This is the link.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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