13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

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13 Minutes

Teenage girls are at best an unpredictable bunch. I’m speaking from experience as I was once one myself. So too was Sarah Pinborough, and that must be why she can so accurately get inside their crazy little heads.

Tasha Howland is found lying in the icy shallows of a river, blue and apparently dead. Then the man and his dog who make the shocking discovery spot movement – she’s alive! But only just, and for 13 minutes Tasha was to all intents and purposes dead. It’s something that haunts her, even though events are a blur. How did she get to the river? Who put her there?

Facebook and Twitter are abuzz with speculation. Tasha was the most popular girl in the school and her merry band of cronies is delighted to be associated with someone who is making headlines. Standing on the sidelines is Becca Crisp, once Tasha’s BFF but who was cast aside when she set her sights on prettier followers. Becca calls Tasha and her closest pals Hayley and Jenny ‘the Barbies’, so blonde and perfect are they – the queen bees of Brackston Community School sixth form. Becca, on the other hand,  has taken a more solitary route, out of the popular orbit and with just one real schoolfriend, Hannah, to confide in.

So why, when Tasha comes out of her coma, is Becca’s name the first to pass her lips? That’s teenage girls for you, I suppose, and as the pair become closer, Tasha gives Becca an exquisite chess set – it’s an appropriate gift from someone who is the princess of intrigue, for as this tale unfolds, some pretty underhand moves are revealed us. Pin borough will play you like a fish on a line, offering little snippets of clues to be snapped up and digested before the next twist holds you entranced in this utterly absorbing tale.

Friendship, trust, manipulation and misdirection are at the very heart of this book; there are some extremely dangerous games being played, and there’ll be tragedy before the final flourish. It’s only when you hit the ultimate full stop that you can finally take a breath and marvel at the cleverness of it all.

I’m new to this author’s work and didn’t read the press release until I’d finished the book, so it came as something of a shock to realise it is written for the young adult audience. Lucky YA readers – because this book could certainly hold its own in the adult field, reminding me as it did of Alex Marwood’s The Wicked Girls and Cathi Unsworth’s Weirdo (both of which are in my favourite-ever crime fiction list).

It’s a tale very much of its time, with social media and smartphones playing important roles throughout – there are whole chapters in textspeak and you find the tech almost acting as an extra character in a wholly realistic cast list. An award-winning writer and script writer, Sarah Pinborough has made her name with popular sci-fi and fantasy novel series. This is her second standalone crime novel, following the highly acclaimed The Death House – which garnered praise from none other than Stephen King!

That’s a book I’m now adding to my to be read list. In the meantime, 13 Minutes is being pencilled in for my top five books of 2016 – why let the youngsters have all the best tales?

13 Minutes comes out 18 February.


CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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