Sunday, 16 April 2017
#ADangerousCrossing #RachelRhys #Review
Sparkling cocktails, poisonous secrets ...
1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day.
But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own.
By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.
So, I loved this book.
I loved the setting. It's July 1939. Rhys starts her story at a point in history where everything is on the cusp of change. Everything that the characters know is about to be disrupted. The world is overshadowed by the threat of war and as the passengers climb on board the Orontes, bound for Australia, they are about to embark on a five week journey that will also change their lives for ever and force them to question everything they know. At the harbour, the threat of war lingers like a dark cloud over the passengers but as the ship sets off into the bright horizon, it out sails the clouds and slips away to an open sea that cannot be touched by the newspapers and the worsening headlines. For five weeks the passengers are almost completely cut off from the real world and the real news. They pick up some updates when they land at various ports but back on board, cocooned on the ship, it feels unreal and untrue.
The setting of a ship is the perfect location in which to gather a selection of very different people from very different backgrounds with very different world views. The ship becomes a place where the lines between class are blurred, where people can create their own lines to introduce themselves by and a place where people can spend five weeks suspended in a kind of limbo between their past and their future. The ship is a place that does not know the truth behind the characters and each one hopes to have left their dark secrets behind on the shoreline. The ship is a new, free space. A place for adventure. An exciting place. A dangerous place.
There is a large cast of characters but there is no danger of losing track of people or getting confused. Each character is so well depicted that they are vivid and alive, distinctive and unforgettable. I loved Rhys' ability to define her characters which such deft and taut descriptions that they were immediately easy to visualise and react to. I loved the range of characters and how each one could provoke an emotional reaction from me. Somehow Rhys is able to create a huge cast of characters many of which are complicated, irrational, unpredictable and inconsistent yet at the same time believable, relatable and for whom we feel empathy. They all have a unique role in the novel and they all have an important message, theme or idea to convey to the reader. No one is wasted. Her characterisation is exceptional. I feel I could talk at length about each and every person who has a role in the story and that alone reflects how outstanding and memorable Rhys' writing is.
My favourite character was Lily, the protagonist. She is complex. She is a girl swept off her feet with the romance, freedom and drama of the ship. She undergoes a huge emotional journey; she has to make difficult decisions, face uncomfortable dilemmas, learn hard lessons about people, society and class, as well as finally confronting some life changing truths. She is sensitive, kind, caring, brave and naive at the same time. She is haunted and she is caught between wanting a new life and yet being restricted by her old one. I thought she was captivating and convincing. I enjoyed her reflections on love, friendship and her social position. I could share her confusion, frustration and pain.
I also liked some of the more 'unlikeable' characters. Eliza was quite fabulous. So loud, colourful, dominating and yet so damaged. And Ida, what a bitter, hurt and misguided soul. The men were also captivating. There was the handsome, the rich, the sensitive and the insightful - none were cliches and each had their faults and flaws which were often very openly on view. The dynamics between the characters was captured so incredibly well. The dialogue, looks and actions between them all revealed - both explicitly and through implication- the many issues tangling up this group of random passengers.
The atmosphere of this novel is totally delicious. Rhys successfully captures the tone and mood of the 1930s. Her historical detail is perfect and the language and writing style of the novel is exquisite. I smiled at the references to Du Maurier and Christie because it reminded me I was reading Rhys and not one of their books. This could easily have been penned by either of these queens of crime and suspense writing.
A Dangerous Crossing is so absorbing, immersive and all consuming. It is a great story that has so much fantastic characterisation as well as a gripping plot. I thoroughly enjoyed how the novel begins as a story about the people on board and the journey through the various ports and countries but then very slowly and gradually, seeds are sown, clues are dropped and complications are alluded to. As the ship gathers distance from England, so also gathers the mysteries, secrets and lies of the passengers. Finally as the ship nears its final destination, there is a crescendo of suspense, tension, emotion and action that is utterly compelling. I was torn between being desperate to read on to the end and yet never wanting the book to end. Although I had slightly suspected the twist at the end, I found that as it started to unveil itself I was torn between wanting to see the whole picture and never wanting the pieces of the jigsaw to fit together. I was on the edge of my seat- albeit a cushion covered, velvet, high backed one because this book is gripping, dramatic, shocking as well as charming, delicious and worth savouring every single word.
A Dangerous Crossing is written by Rachel Rhys who also has penned many psychological thrillers under another name. I have read a couple of her thrillers and enjoyed them very much. But this book, well, it totally blew me away. I am bereft now it has ended and I would do anything to stop the ship from docking in Sydney so I could stay on board with the characters for longer.
This novel is truly stunning. It has the richness, exquisiteness, deliciousness and totally absorbs you in the way a crime classic from Christie and Du Maurier only can but it is also gripping, compelling and chilling in the way only a modern, contemporary fiction novel can hold you to ransom until you've turned the last page.
Yes. I loved this book. Yes, I recommend this book. Yes, I could keep talking about this book. Just be glad I did not copy out every single line, paragraph and scene that I marked as exceptional writing. Then this review would have taken you as long to read as it did the passengers on the Orontes to get to Australia.
A Dangerous Crossing was published on 23rd March 2017 by Doubleday.
Rachel Rhys is a pen name of a successful suspense author. This debut novel under this new name is inspired by a real diary which the author discovered by accident in her mother's home. I also enjoyed the real extracts, letters and telegrams included at the back of the book which show the characters on which this story is based.
A Dangerous Crossing will be Bibliomaniac's Book Club choice for May so do check back here on the 1st May for book club questions and much more! Or keep up to date by following me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or by subscribing to my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk