Written by Sophie Hannah — Cara Burrows is well outside of her comfort zone. She has left her husband and children behind in the UK and flown across the Atlantic. It’s a spur-of-the-moment decision. Cara is pregnant and needs some me time. Instead of booking herself into a local beauty salon she’s on her way to a top-class resort in Arizona.
Cara has thinking to do, decisions to make and she wants to do these things alone. Hence, before she leaves the airport and sets off to drive to Swallowtail Resort and Spa in the foothills of Camelback Mountain, she makes one final bid for seclusion and leaves her mobile phone with the car hire rep for safe-keeping.
That’s a decision she soon regrets, and she has plenty of time to mull it over as she struggles with both unfamiliar car and countryside and arrives at Swallowtail far later than expected. Tired and stressed, she checks in, gets her key card and finally opens the door to her room, longing for bed and some peace. But the room is already occupied and she wakes a man and a teenage girl, who is clutching a strange looking toy animal. Panicked, Cara dives into the bathroom and hides only to be discovered by the puzzled man in the room.
She returns to reception where an apologetic receptionist upgrades her room and sends Cara on her way again. That simple mistake by a harried member of hotel staff is destined to get Cara into a whole world of trouble. In a story that at times borders on the farcical, we are about to discover that the young girl Cara saw may or may not be Melody Chapa, who was murdered by her parents seven years ago. After Cara succumbs to her overweening curiosity and takes to the internet, she discovers that Melody’s body was never found and that she went missing with her favourite toy, a strange-looking dog/pig named Poggy. Can it really be Melody that Cara, and another, mildly deranged elderly guest have spotted at Swallowtail? If so, where has she been all this time?
Our last foray into Sophie Hannah’s work was her official Agatha Christie revival The Monogram Murders, featuring none other than Hercule Poirot. And at times while reading Did You See Melody? it feels like stepping into another Christie mystery. All the ingredients are here: woman alone, sumptuous setting, a varied cast of characters, some inscrutable investigators and of course, the mystery of Melody herself.
Sadly, that’s where the comparisons end. The basic premise is a solid one, but there are too many far-fetched elements to give this tale any real air of mystery. The narrative ebbs and flows, broken up by short, uncredited passages that reveal, bit by bit, the back story to Melody’s disappearance, fleshing out detail and painting a pretty bleak picture. Most irritating are the transcripts of interviews between TV presenter Bonnie Juno and assorted guests on her show Justice with Bonnie. It is clear that Juno is obsessed with the Melody Chapa case, but these chunks of dialogue add little to the story and you’ll find yourself skimming through them.
Cara herself is a bit of a wet lettuce – which isn’t too surprising. After all, she came to Swallowtail for a well-earned break but instead finds herself at the centre of a web of intrigue. My favourite character is fellow Swallowtail guest Tarin Fry, a no-nonsense American who talks a lot of sense in extremely strident terms. She’s a cracker who adds some much-needed light relief. There is enough in Cara Burrows’ story to draw you through to the end, but after a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing, the great reveal, when it arrives, is something of an anticlimax and you may feel a bit cheated.
Hodder & Stoughton
CFL Rating: 3 Stars