Summer reading – thrillers by the sea

I’ve spent the last week in the (unexpected) sunshine by the sea in Margate, and I packed a bunch of thrillers for some light, easy reading. I polished off three novels, but had quite mixed feelings about all of them…

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Glen has died after being run over by a bus – widow Jean now opens up to reporters about events from the past, when Glen had been accused of kidnapping two-year-old Grace – but never found guilty. This book is told from different perspectives – mainly that of Jean the widow, Kate the reporter and Bob the detective – and flits back and forth in time. 

I was immediately hooked on this novel and whizzed through the first 100 or so pages. I liked the short chapters and wasn’t put off by the different narrators or changes in time – I almost always knew where I was and didn’t mind flicking back and forth a few times to get my bearings.

But one problem I did have from the start was the character of Jean. She seemed ridiculously old-fashioned and naive and I never found her very convincing. Throughout the novel, she seemed to be twice her age. I was also expecting a few more twists and turns but I did realise about halfway through that there probably wouldn’t be one – and as a result the end did feel anti-climactic.

But despite these reservations I did find the book a really quick and easy read and I enjoyed the different characters’ perspectives. I also thought the sometimes unpleasant subject matter was handled sensitively without having being sensationalist. But I think my main issues were that I could never quite figure out the main character and that it needed a good twist at the end.

[Thank you to Ben Willis and Orion Books for an ARC of this novel]

The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing down once again.

Having read other reviews of this book, I know that people have two main issues with it. One is the notion that there isn’t a single, tiny distinguishing feature about either of the two twins to enable them to be told apart. I have also read some reviewers finding the family’s move from London to the absolute middle of nowhere to be unbelievable too. I managed to just about accept the second point – but you definitely have to suspend disbelief on the first! 

We get two perspectives here – that of Sarah, told in the first person, alongside the third person narrative of Angus. I found Angus to be quite a confusing character at times, as he seems perfectly decent on the surface, but is seething with anger underneath. Sarah is also mixed up, and the confusion over her surviving twin’s identity sends her slowly more and more crazy…

What I found odd about this book the more I read is that it wasn’t really about the identity of the surviving twin but more about a breakdown in a relationship and how grief has made a bad situation even worse. In fact the identity issue just becomes a bit confusing and almost farcical at times, with the identity of the twin switching around – and ultimately I wasn’t really sure this added anything to the novel. Instead, some of the more ghostly elements of the book are more interesting, as is the deterioration of Sarah’s sanity, and her relationship with Angus. 

I found the book very readable, but it did all feel a bit ridiculous at times. It was redeemed for me by the dark ending, which I did like, but overall the novel felt a bit too unbelievable and could have actually done without the case of mistaken identity.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is.

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbour town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where 18 year old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister.

I have read Kubica’s other novels, and was looking forward to reading her new book, Don’t You Cry. But I struggled with this one – it was such a slog and after 100 pages I really felt nothing at all had happened that wasn’t outlined in the synopsis. It was clearly written as a bit of a slow-burner to build up the tension, but this one burned so slowly that by the time it finally got going I was struggling to maintain my interest. 

I struggled to connect with either of the two narrators, Alex and Quinn, and the novel sometimes seemed unfocused. It felt to me like a lot of the book was padded out with unnecessary detail, which was designed to introduce various red herrings, but actually took us away from the main action of the story. However, the twist at the end I thought was very clever, and it made everything that had happened before make sense. But I think it was a bit too late for me by this point and I only really enjoyed the last 50 pages or so! 

If you like your psychological thrillers to build up the tension very slowly, then this might be a good read for you, and as I say the climax was good, but for me it took far too long to get going.


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