Written by Hollie Overton — Twins have loomed large in some of fiction’s finest moments. Who can forget that creepy pair in Stephen King’s The Shining, and how about David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers for unnerving? SK Tremayne’s The Ice Twins – one of my favourite crime books of recent years – even had them in the title.
They can also raise a red flag to the savvy reader. Where the writing is lacklustre and you work out before halfway through the book that there are shenanigans afoot and twins are swapping places to get up to no good… Yawn.
Baby Doll falls somewhere between the two. The author herself is an identical twin, so it is little wonder that her depiction of the many layered relationship between the two siblings seems spot on. However, she sadly falls short of actually using that twinship to create any real drama – to such an extent that Abby ad Lily could just as easily have been ordinary sisters.
Lily has been held captive for eight years in a windowless room after being snatched from outside her school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, abused physically, mentally and sexually by her captor. She was a young teenager when she was taken; now she is a woman and has a young daughter, Sky, and the unrelenting goal of escaping from this hell she has been living in and return to the bosom of her family.
When the chance finally presents itself, Lily takes it with both hands and somehow manages to find her way home. But many things have changed. Her father is dead, her mother is sleeping around and her twin sister, Abby, is much altered, having spent many years battling an overwhelming grief at the loss of her beloved sister. Abby is also heavily pregnant and the baby’s father is Lily’s first love, the boy she has been dreaming of in all her years of captivity.
There’s no protracted whodunnit aspect to this book. You’ll soon know who committed the crime and we have a ringside seat as the process of getting him locked up begins. Rick is a nasty piece of work, but that evil at times teeters into pantomime villain territory, verging on the caricature and diluting the drama.
While the case against him is being built, Lily and Sky are struggling to find their feet in a world without borders. Sky has lived in fear for all of her short life; for her, freedom is just another thing to be frightened of. Can these shattered lives mend and the family become whole once more?
So far, so good, but then Overton begins to introduce a hearty helping of romance and the weave begins to loosen. There’s a stilted sex scene and some will-she-won’t-she seesawing which adds little to the story. What started off in such a promising manner threatens to descend into mediocracy.
Which is a pity, as this debut author shows skill in setting a scene and creating characters. Hollie Overton has written scripts for some well-known US TV series and this book demonstrates a writer with a keen eye for the minutiae that helps to bring a story to life. If she can steer well clear of melodrama, beef up her plotlines and keep the unwarranted distractions to a minimum, then I can see her making her mark in the crime fiction genre.
Baby Doll is released 30 June. For another twins-based mystery try Guy Portman’s Symbiosis.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars