Dear Amy – Helen Callaghan

A good few years ago now (maybe 2014?), Dear Amy was advertised on train station platforms as being a first class psychological thriller, and I will admit the premise intrigued me. As ever, of course, some books escape my net, as I simply don’t have enough hours to read them all (curse my needing to work to support myself), so Dear Amy fell to the back of my mind. A few weeks ago, when I saw that it was on Audible, I decided I may as well give it a go, so spent a week immersed in this thriller of missing girls set in Cambridge.

Dear Amy – Helen Callaghan

31277756First Class Psychological Suspense From a Major New Voice in Fiction

Margot Lewis is the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner. Her advice column, Dear Amy, gets all kinds of letters – but none like the one she’s just received: Dear Amy,
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery

Bethan Avery has been missing for years. This is surely some cruel hoax. But, as more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. How is this happening? Answering this question will cost Margot everything . . .

Funnily enough, this is the second psychological thriller that I’ve read in the last few weeks which is set in Cambridge (UK, not Massachusetts). I’ve never been to Cambridge, but I’ve built up a ridiculous mental picture in my head now which is part old college buildings and mostly made up of the River Cam. That’s all I’ve got. My mental image isn’t very good.

Generally, this was quite an enjoyable thriller. A missing girl (two missing girls), an investigative teacher, a sinister shadowy man, and dual narratives of Margot as she assists in the search for Bethan, and of Katie as she suffers through her captivity. Lots of twists and turns in the story, and a high-octane race to save the missing girl before it’s too late…

So yes, there was lots that was admirable in this story. I was caught up in it at times, sitting in the car waiting for a chapter to end before I got out. And, given how swelteringly hot it’s been this week, that was quite the commitment!

But I had several issues with this book, some with the story itself, and others with the Audible version of it.

My main issue was that I had pegged the twist quite early on, and the smaller twist before the reveal as well. That meant, for me, a lot of the mystery and tension was gone out of the book before it should have been.

I also had a major issue with a specific scene in which Margot drives from Cambridge to Essex. No indication is given of how far this is, or whether it’s an unusual distance to drive. Or, in fact, why she drove to Essex at all. It was never explained (although I did google map it, and it’s 55 miles) and it niggled at me for the entire rest of the book.

There are three narrators in the book, but one doesn’t show up until about 80% of the way through, and then has one chunk, then vanishes again. I didn’t really understand this narrative choice. It might have been easier to understand if I had been reading a physical book, but because I had an Audible version, I knew that the third narrator was coming, and spent a long time waiting and wondering what was happening.

My main issue with the narration, which Helen Baxendale delivered in a very dramatic way, was that it varied wildly in volume. During tense, quiet scenes, it was delivered in a whisper, and fast-paced, violent scenes were delivered at speed. Very good for atmosphere, but terrible for when you’re driving, and need to turn the volume up to hear the stressful parts. Especially since the return to normal volume delivery would then blast the ears out of me while I scrambled to turn the dial back down. Not sure if there’s a way to counteract that, though. More monotone delivery! Not actually what I want – for the most part, the delivery in this was very good, full of emotion, and I think it bolstered what actually might otherwise have been large chunks of pretty dull monologue. However, the variation in volume made it frustrating to listen to while driving. Maybe one for headphones.

Three Stars
***

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