I WAS SENT A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR AN UNBIASED REVIEW
‘It was the new cop who came to the door, the young fella who’d only been on the job a couple of month. I thought that was a bit rough, sending a boy like him to do a job like that. Later, I found out that he was sent because he’d gone to pieces at the scene. That’s what we all call it now:the scene.’
When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends. Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparently easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts that only experience can bring.
What I thought:
Once again i went into this book not knowing anything apart from the press release and with as little pre-conceptions as possible. Clearly I knew it was about a murder and about sisters but apart from the couple of lines on the back I knew very little. And I like that. A lot of the books I’ve read are because I’ve heard people talking about them on twitter or someone I know has recommended them (YA twitter is great for recs.) But as I don’t read much crime normally (something that I’m going to start changing) I wouldn’t have known where to go looking to find something about this. But Eye & Lightening were excited for it and I trust them. Plus any book about the relationship between sisters is always going to interest me. I’m VERY close to my sister, I can’t imagine it being any other way and even if it might just be a quick message on Facebook we talk to each other in some way shape or form most days. of course she’s on the other side of the world which can make it difficult at times but we put the energy into it because it means a lot to us. So reading about a murdered sister in Australia, about half a day away from where my sister currently is? Yeah that was always going to peak my interest, and make my slightly paranoid; reminding her not to get killed, or join a cult (‘In your light’ by Annalie Grainger sparked this, review in a month or so.) and just generally checking in more than normal.
The relationship between the two sisters was a great one, it would be easy to think that with the large age gap Chris would be more of a second mother for Bella but Chris makes it clear from the very beginning that a large majority of the time Bella was the one looking after her. They clearly loved each other and knew they could rely on each other to help out wherever or whenever. And that moment where Chris see’s Bella’s body. Urgh, my heart fell out of my chest.
She never describes what Bella looked like. No one ever describes how Bella was found, apart from the fact she’d been tortured and it’s not pretty. And that’s all you need because you know how much it tore apart Chris’ world and you can’t help but think about how that could be you, and how you’d react. (this was the first of my paranoid messages to my sister. And having to wait 8 hours for a reply because it’s the middle of the night and she’s asleep? That doesn’t help the paranoia). I think the answer is we’d all react the same way, by complete numbness and an inability to be able to think. For a couple of seconds Chris isn’t even able to recognise her sister because her face is so damaged. This is honestly nightmare inducing, the idea of my sister being so damaged that I don’t recognise her, that and her lying somewhere cold in the dark unable to call for help.
There’s a great moment where Chris is asked by a journalist how it felt, identifying her sister’s body. And Chris asks the journalist to imagine how it felt, because we’re all human, and after imagining it make it ten times worse and to add the knowledge that you’ll never ‘get over it’ and will live with that image for the rest of your life.
This whole book is about relationships; Chris and Bella’s, Chris and her ex-husband who drops everything to come and support her when he hears the news, Chris and May the sole journalist who does her best to see the whole thing through rather than moving onto the next story. The actual investigation and murder mystery isn’t what’s important. it’s important for Chris to find out who did it for closure, but it doesn’t change the fact that her sister is dead.
The other POV in this book is May. She’s a crime reporter and this is one of her first proper stories and can’t stop thinking about it. Although originally there is plenty of newspaper coverage (gruesome murder in sleep country town) and even a march in Sydney in Bella’s name to stop violence against women, gradually the interest starts to die away as the investigation slows down. Soon May is the only person left and that’s only because she quits her job in order to see it to the end.
She’s dogged in her determination to keep finding stories and to make sure that people don’t only remember Bella’s death. As much as the death brought Bella’s story to the limelight there are so many things that happened in her life that are worth telling.
At times I found May more difficult to read, but that could be because I was so interested in Chris’ story. At times her determination to do anything for the story went a bit too far, and she could be a bit 2D, and then she would say or do something (like quit her job to stay and tell one woman’s story) and I’d like her again. her opinion and connection to the story became more and more personal but I just wasn’t as interested in it.
However it did allow for a bit of a relief from all the heavy emotion of Chris’ story. yes we were still finding out more things about Bella’s death, or trying to, but the grief was second hand and wasn’t so heavy. It gave a much needed breather while still keeping you invested in the story.
My only warning is that the end is very quick, it’s like ‘huh the murder was…’ ‘wait no what?’. It would have been a nice to see more of how that came about and why, as well as how the police found out. If not maybe a couple of lines hinting towards things (although I fully admit I might have missed it).
However the point of this book and this story isn’t to find out who killed Bella, because then it would be from the POV of the police officers doing the investigation.
This is about the emotion, and learning how to live with that pain in the immediate as well as a couple of months down the line, and a couple of months past that until it stops being the only thing you can think of and you realise you’re ready to have some form of life again and you can carry the weight of that grief. It’s about the path that Chris has to take, to come to terms with this happening and not knowing how to cope and borrowing strength from everywhere possible. it’s about May being determined to see the story through, to not let down the victim’s family by letting their grief get pushed aside for the next story. It’s about learning how to get up again, about stumbling down the path with no clue where you’re next step will lead you. It’s about that relationship between sisters that is impossible to quantify but which means that if my sister NEEDED me then she could call and I would clear it with work and get on the next flight to Australia if it was something that couldn’t be fixed over the phone. it’s about the reason why I leave my phone and next to me all night so that I’ll be there if she needs to call. it’s about that heart wrenching grief that occurs when you find out you weren’t there when she needed you.
It’s also about the messages I got back confirming that she was safe and she loved me, reassuring me that the second-hand grief I felt from the book was fine, but that she was also fine.
So yes, maybe it would have been nice to know more about what happened to Bella. But that’s not what this book is about. And if that’s what you’re looking for then there are plenty of other books or TV shows out there for you.
Why I read it:
I was sent a free copy of this for review but although I might not have picked it up normally I was interested when the publishers (Eye and Lightening books) sent me the press release. The books they’ve sent me previously might not be my normal type but I’ve loved them anyway, they’ve reminded me that although I read a lot of fantasy and/or YA what I really love is a good and gripping story.
Now I’m much more likely to pick up a book if I see their logo on the side.
The best thing I can say about this book is it too longer for me to read it than normal and there were times where I wanted to read but also didn’t want to read because I knew that I was too tired to deal with the subject matter. This book is brilliantly realistic and while normally I can read a book whenever/wherever I had to make sure I was in the right mood for this one, to be able to deal the emotions of a grieving sister. Of that level of pain.
I did find the ending a bit quick and had to read over it a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, but finding out who killed Bella isn’t the focus of the story. It’s about learning to find a new way forward.
Would I recommend? Yes. Just make sure you’re not too emotionally compromised when you start. It’s not a tear jerker, but it does grab onto the heart and that pit of fear in your stomach.
Everyone should tell their brother/sister that they love them and then go read this book. Although if you think this is too soul destroying then I would totally understand.
PopSugar: Borrowed/given as a gift, published in 2018 (technically it’s published in the UK in 2018)
I didn’t expect this review to get quite so emotional, but this book really tugged at my heart strings and at some of my deepest fears. So go tell your family that you love them (and family doesn’t have to mean blood) and then go read this book.
I’m away this weekend so there probably won’t be another review until Monday (we’re going out on Tuesday for my mum’s birthday).
Let me know what you think and if my review has made you interested in reading it. Thanks again to the people and Eye & Lightening for sending me this.
P.S The next review is ‘Open Road Summer’ by Emery Lord.