Written by Julia Crouch — 1980. Emma is an 18-year-old with a promising future ahead of her when she embarks on her solo trip across Europe. She’s just been accepted to read English at university, and she dreams of being a writer and of having adventures to fuel her writing. But the excitement soon turns to anguish and fear after a horrendous incident in Marseille. Shaken but determined not to be beaten, Emma continues her journey across Europe and ends up in Athens, where she finally finds some other young people to befriend. What happens next, however, when the friends go to the island of Ikaria, will change Emma’s life forever.
Present-day London. Kate is a respectable woman approaching middle-age, with a glossy lifestyle and keen to maintain the illusion of perfection. The only hint that something is not quite right is the grief she still feels about the death of her younger daughter. She has established a charity in her honour, Martha’s Wish, to help girls in Africa to receive schooling. A photo of Kate in Africa set the social media networks alight and won International Charity Image of the Year award. While this recognition has brought many additional donations to the charity, it has also drawn someone’s attention to Kate, who has been trying all these years to hide any hints of her past. Moving swiftly between the two moments in time, we gradually learn just what links Emma to Kate, and the foolish lengths to which Kate is prepared to go to protect her secrets.
The book’s strength lies in the great descriptions of the hedonism of backpacking holidays back in 1980, when Greek island hopping still seemed quite adventurous. Julia Crouch is great at capturing that sense of vulnerability, loneliness and need for camaraderie that we all have in youth, especially single young women travelers. And she also shows how easily things can spin out of control. The voice of young Emma, conveyed through extracts from her diary, comes across as very honest and fresh. The author admits she used extracts from her own youthful diaries for inspiration in capturing that life-moment, although the events depicted are entirely fictional.
The present day Kate is rather more irritating and surprisingly immature in her reactions. I am not sure what the anorexia side plot adds to the story, although it could be argued that it blocks her ability to reason. There are several cringeworthy shout out loud moments. While the lack of judgement of the 18-year-old can be forgiven, in a woman of 50 it is less believable. Once you start, you are likely to find yourself turning the pages more and more quickly to find out what happened and how they are going to deal with the fallout. The ending does feel a little contrived and predictable, but it is well-paced enough to keep up the level of engagement. This is a solid entry into the psychological thriller canon and a fun holiday read, as long as you don’t have children about to embark on solo travel during their gap year!
CFL Rating: 4 Stars