I only read the back of the book before I started this book which simply states:
A devastating secret
A life torn apart
A new friend to help you forget
But what is she isn’t who she seems?
There is a more detailed synopsis on the inside of the front cover, which I didn’t notice until I’d finished reading the book, and for this I am grateful. I think that synopsis gives more information than it should. Personally I think it would make you start looking for answers before you get too far into the book. I liked the simplicity and very open four sentences on the back of the book.
My mother always said to me that she could always tell within the first few lines of a book whether she was going to enjoy it, and frustratingly, the saying ‘mother knows best’ seems once more to be appropriate here. From my experience, every book I have ever picked up, I have known instantly how I will feel about the book. This was no exception; there is a brief prologue which begins “I didn’t go to Alice’s funeral. I was pregnant at the time, crazy and wild with grief. But it wasn’t Alice I grieved for. No, I hated Alice by then and was glad she was dead. It was Alice who had ruined my life, taken the best thing I’d ever had and smashed it into a million unfixable pieces. I wasn’t crying for Alice but because of her.” I was intrigued, and drawn in instantly.
As you begin to read, there are instant hints at some dark secret lurking deep within Katherine’s past and this information is released bit by bit as the novel is told from three different points in time. The majority of the book is told when Katherine is 17, as she tries to move on and deal with the devastating tragedy of her sister’s death and this is when she meets Alice. There are brief interludes which go back in time to when Rachel was alive, which is how we discover what exactly happened to Rachel, and forward in time to life after Alice when Katherine has a little girl, Sarah. The shifting chapters aren’t in the slightest disrupting to the storyline, and work exceptionally well at drawing you in and providing you with little nuggets of information just as the time is right. The pace is perfect right to the very end.
Katherine is a loveable character; she appears insecure and dreams of being the person she feels inside and we soon discover that she feels she can’t be this person anymore due to a sense of guilt that she shouldn’t be happy when her sister has been deprived of her life. I was instantly suspicious of Alice, she keeps referring to secrets that Katherine might have and she clearly has a hidden agenda from the start. As her character is developed, I did start to wonder whether she was just totally unaware of how self-obsessed and bitchy she is, or whether she was being purposely deceptive. Rebecca James does a wonderful job in portraying these characters, even the secondary characters.
As a psychological thriller, it isn’t scary in a terrifying way but more of a creepy way. There were moments when my heart was thumping harder than usual, and I had a strong desire to know more – a consequence of some really excellent writing. All in all, I found it quite gripping and in fact did read it in one sitting. I have to admit, I guessed the major twist quite early on, but this isn’t because it’s obvious (I think it may well have been a fluke, or perhaps too many TV detective shows leaving me constantly looking for something sinister and connections). Saying this, it didn’t actually take anything away from the book as even though I thought I knew, this wasn’t confirmed until the very end (at just the right moment) and honestly, any other twist could have been possible. There are lots of other twists along the way, which will keep you guessing right until the very end.
Having finished the book, I took to google to find out a bit more about Rebecca James. I learnt that this was her debut novel, and was astonished. I am incredibly impressed that her debut novel is put together so perfectly; the switching chapters setting a perfect pace, the writing style, the wonderfully drawn characters and the way they interact with each other to produce such a chilling story.
It would appear the rest of the world has taken to this book just as I have, and it is said to have become a publishing phenomenon. If you take a look at Rebecca James’ blog you will see the differing covers for different international versions. I have to say, I love the UK’s version; it is simple yet effective with the silver elegant writing surrounded by barbed wire on a striking red background. It is perfectly illustrative of Alice who can be equally charming as she can be chilling.
I see that James’ second novel is on its way, in fact the second draft is with the UK agent as I write. James has set herself up to be a huge author of the future and has already been compared with the likes of JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer (Twilight series author). For once, the hype of a “publishing phenomenon” with “international appeal” seems to be entirely justified. I look forward to James’ second novel with eager anticipation and strongly recommend this debut novel to all readers!