The Alone Time by Elle Marr

2 Mins read
The Alone Time by Elle Marr front cover

Plane crashes make fertile ground for crime fiction authors. The drama! The unpredictability! One of my favourites is Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton – although strictly speaking that was a hot air balloon, rather than an aircraft. It came out seven years ago and stays with me still.

So The Alone Time had a high bar to fly over, so would it rise above the clouds or crash and burn? From the outset, Elle Marr works hard to pull in the reader and keep them there. Meet Fiona, who upon our first acquaintance is fiddling about with twigs, feathers and an errant pine cone in the hope of creating a striking piece of conceptual artwork.

The piece is destined to join several others at Fiona’s first major art exhibition, and although her work may sound a little sketchy to those skeptical of contemporary art, it is forecast to sell like hot cakes. Because Fiona’s surname is Seng, and 25 years ago she and her sister Violet were headline news across the world after surviving alone for 12 weeks in the wilderness of Washington State in the Pacific Northwest. Her art reflects upon their childhood experiences.

Their parents were not so lucky, being killed outright when the family’s borrowed Cessna plane crash-landed in the middle of nowhere, leaving the two young girls to fend for themselves. Or at least, that’s how the story goes – but as the pages turn we begin to realise that everything is not quite as legend would have it for the ‘girl survivors’.

The cracks begin to show when a filmmaker approaches Violet in the hope of getting her to cooperate with a documentary on the 25th anniversary of the crash. It’s when the sisters foolishly decided to say yes that their troubles really start. As the floodgates open we begin, drip by drip, to learn the truth of what happened back then. It’s harrowing, shocking and nothing like the story they are still doggedly clinging onto as the documentary cameras begin to roll.

And what of Violet? The younger of the two siblings, she has had issues with drugs and as we meet her she is putting all that behind her and tackling a college course. But she is alone and lonely, which is why when the documentary maker comes a calling she gives the idea head room. She was only little and her memories of the ‘Alone Time’ as the sisters call it, are now pretty vague. But she’s started having flashbacks – or are they false memories? Certainly, that’s what Fiona wants her to believe.

Siblings, their closeness and their rivalry are at the very heart of this twisted tale of survival and secrets. On the face of it, the Sengs were a happy family, with loving parents and gorgeous children, but as that picture perfect image begins to fray around the edges, domestic bliss transmogrifies into something a lot, lot darker.

Elle Marr is a clever writer, who manages to convey atmosphere and emotion without laying it on too thickly. She chooses her words well, and builds the tension brick by carefully-laid brick while demonstrating how well the unreliable narrator trope can be used. Just when you think you’ve got things straight in your head, she throws in an unexpected truth bomb and puts everything in turmoil once more. Be careful whose side you decide to take, is all I’m willing to say.

The Alone Time is very cleverly put together, and although some plot strands do fizzle out into nothingness as we approach the denouement there’s plenty to ponder upon. If twisty psychological thrillers that wrong-foot at every turn are your reading of choice, then The Alone Time is definitely one that’ll hold you in its white knuckled grip.

Another air accident is the starting point for After the Crash by French author Michel Bussi.

Thomas and Mercer

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related posts

Interview: Elle Marr

The tag ‘psychological thriller’ is loosely attached to so many crime novels these days, but Elle Marr is an American author who really does delve deeply into the psychology of her characters and how it affects their behaviour. This could be one of the reasons…

On the Radar: Sally Diamond is forever

Do you love off-kilter crime thrillers? Do you love cosy crime fiction? Do you love detective procedurals? Do you love espionage? Do you love psychological thrillers? If you answered yes to one or more of the above, then read on – because our weekly news…

Reputation by Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan has been on the Crime Fiction Lover radar before, her intelligently written, precisely plotted thrillers making reviewers sit up and pay attention. Back in 2018 we took a look at Anatomy of a Scandal, part psychological thriller, part courtroom drama, with an MP…
Crime Fiction Lover