#BookReview Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry @VintageBooks

Don't Turn AroundAbout the Book

Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America.

Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…

Format: Paperback (320 pages)     Publisher: Vintage
Publication date: 15th April 2021 Genre: Thriller, Crime, Mystery

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My Review

I don’t read thrillers all that often but when I do it’s because I’m looking for a palate cleanser from my usual diet of historical fiction and I’m pleased to say Don’t Turn Around fitted the bill perfectly. If you’ve been following the blog tour, you’ll have seen book bloggers sharing extracts from the book along with their reviews. Even if you haven’t, there’s still time to check out their posts (see poster below).

The author deploys all the weapons of the thriller writer – short chapters, compelling final sentences, multiple timelines and narrators, as well as red herrings galore. I developed several theories about what was going on and who was behind it, all of which ended up being dumped in the literary equivalent of a roadside garbage bin.

However, the plot also incorporates more serious topics such as women’s rights and the impact of social media. In the case of the latter, it’s bang up-to-date with its references to anonymous site 4chan. Misogyny and violence against women is a key issue addressed. As Rebecca observes, “Wasn’t living under the constant threat of danger just a part of being a woman in this world?” In fact, my one reservation about the book was whether its cast of unlikable male characters and the way events play out doesn’t in fact reinforce this notion.

I liked the way the author explored the dynamics of the relationship between the two women. Although only ten years apart in age, they start off believing they have little in common. Cait’s journalistic ambitions have come to nothing, seeing her working as a bartender and relying on tips to meet her rent bill. Whereas, from Cait’s point of view, Rebecca is someone whose privileged life has been ‘one long red carpet rolling out in front of her, ready to be stepped on’. Of course, first impressions can be deceptive.

Gradually, the barriers between the two women start to break down to the extent that Cait even wonders if she and Rebecca might have been friends in other circumstances. However, she quickly dismisses the idea, reminding herself that she’s there to do a job and nothing else. As it turns out, they’ll need to rely on each other’s ingenuity and courage more than they could ever have imagined.

The book paints an interesting picture of small town America with its roadside restaurants, motels and bars. The chapter headings listing the places the two women travel through (the majority of which I suspect few people have ever heard) acquire a sort of poetic quality: Clovis, Melrose, Yeso, Vaughn, Pastura, Taiban, Tolar. The enumeration of the miles left to travel to their destination acts like a countdown clock, increasing the tension but also giving the story a real-time feel. In another clever touch, as the story switches between their journey and recent events in the lives of the two women, the intervals reduce from months, to weeks, and finally to days until the timelines finally converge.

The two women have several tense and bruising encounters as they drive through Texas and New Mexico, a landscape described as ‘nothing but scrubland and the long flat ribbon of road and the vast black sky’. Oh, and there’s no phone signal either.

Don’t Turn Around is the kind of book I categorize as a trains, planes and automobiles read by which I mean it would be the ideal choice to pass the time on a long journey – although perhaps not if travelling as a passenger in a car on a lonely road! The book is clearly the work of a skilled writer who knows how to grab the attention of the reader – well, this one at least – and ensure it never wanders until the final page is turned.

My thanks to Graeme Williams for letting me know about the book and for organising my review copy.

In three words: Compelling, intense, suspenseful

Try something similar: Duel by Richard Matheson (or the 1971 TV film version starring Dennis Weaver and directed by one Steven Spielberg)

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Jess BarryAbout the Author

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS. She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London. She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman. (Photo credit: Twitter profile)

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#BookReview After the Storm (A Giuseppe Bianchi Mystery 2) by Isabella Muir @rararesources


After The Storm Full Tour Banner

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for After the Storm by Isabella Muir, the second in her Giuseppe Bianchi mystery series. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for my digital review copy.

After The StormAbout the Book

When a violent storm blasts England’s south coast, it’s up to retired Italian detective Giuseppe Bianchi to sift through the devastation and piece together the tragic events left behind in the storm’s wake.

Giuseppe Bianchi’s brief visit to Bexhill-on-Sea has become an extended stay. He is loath to return to his home in Rome because of the haunting images that made him leave in the first place.  During his morning walks along the seafront with beagle, Max, he meets Edward Swain, who becomes Giuseppe’s walking companion. They form a friendship of sorts and find they have a similar outlook on life.

But the devastating events of a single night lead Giuseppe to question the truth about Edward Swain. Teaming up with young journalist, Christina Rossi – his cousin’s daughter – Giuseppe learns about the brutal reality lurking behind the day-to-day life of families in the local community. And as the story unravels Giuseppe is reminded how anger and revenge can lead to the most dreadful of crimes.

Format: ebook (214 pages) Publisher:
Publication date: 24th December 2020 Genre: Crime, Mystery

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My Review

After the Storm is the sequel to Crossing the Line but I can reassure readers like myself who are new to the series that, although there are brief references to events in the first book, After the Storm can be enjoyed without having read its predecessor. In fact, the hints about secrets in the pasts of both Giuseppe and his cousin Mario, suggest there is still plenty to discover for readers both old and new.

A tragic event that occurs during the night of the storm arouses Giuseppe’s detective instincts and prompts him to embark on an investigation into the circumstances of something that most believe to have been an accident, even an act of God. However, it also reignites feelings of guilt about a previous case he was unable to solve.

Alongside Giuseppe’s investigation, the reader is immersed in the dynamics of the Rossi family: Mario and Anne, hardworking owners of the Bella Cafe; their daughter, Christina, a reporter on the local paper; their grandson, Stevie, who proves to be an important eyewitness; and their other daughter, Flavia, whose rare visits have a habit of causing disruption to the household.

The author includes just enough detail about world and national events, such as the first anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the forthcoming 1964 General Election, to give a sense of the period in which the book is set. The book’s Bexhill-on-Sea location is nicely evoked with its mix of faded grandeur, pockets of post-war deprivation and traditional seaside activities. Even Giuseppe comes to appreciate ice cream in a cone in place of his beloved gelato, although he stubbornly clings to his routine for making the perfect espresso.

The book’s title is used both literally, as in the havoc wrought by the violent storm so vividly depicted in the opening chapter, and metaphorically, in the sense of what can come to light in the aftermath of such a turbulent event.  Plenty of things, as it turns out.

After the Storm is described as having the intrigue of a traditional English mystery combined with a continental twist and I would say that is a very fair description. The closing chapter of After the Storm hints at even more of that continental flavour in future books.

In three words: Entertaining, well-crafted, mystery

Try something similar: The Temptation by Vera Morris

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Isabella MuirAbout the Author

Isabella is never happier than when she is immersing herself in the sights, sounds and experiences of the 1960s. Researching all aspects of family life back then formed the perfect launch pad for her works of fiction. Isabella rediscovered her love of writing fiction during two happy years working on and completing her MA in Professional Writing and since then she has gone on to publish six novels, three novellas and two short story collections.

Her latest novel, After the Storm, is the second novel in a new series of Sussex Crimes, featuring retired Italian detective, Giuseppe Bianchi who is escaping from tragedy in Rome, only to arrive in the quiet seaside town of Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, to come face-to-face with it once more.

Her first Sussex Crime Mystery series features young librarian and amateur sleuth, Janie Juke. Set in the late 1960s, in the fictional seaside town of Tamarisk Bay, we meet Janie, who looks after the mobile library. She is an avid lover of Agatha Christie stories – in particular Hercule Poirot. Janie uses all she has learned from the Queen of Crime to help solve crimes and mysteries. As well as three novels, there are three novellas in the series, which explore some of the back story to the Tamarisk Bay characters.

Isabella’s standalone novel, The Forgotten Children, deals with the emotive subject of the child migrants who were sent to Australia – again focusing on family life in the 1960s, when the child migrant policy was still in force.

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