Review by Linda Hepworth
Publisher Corvus (Imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd) 17th August 2021
ISBN: 978-1-83895-109-2 HB
Georgie, Lissa and Bronwyn have been best friends since they met on their college swimming team. Now Lissa is dead – drowned off the coast of the remote island where her second husband owns a luxury resort. But could a star open-water swimmer really have drowned? Or is something more sinister going on?
Although it is clear from the start that relationships between members of the group of close friends who have gathered for Lissa’s memorial service are strained, it is only gradually, through the alternating perspectives of Georgie and Bron, that the historic reasons for the tension become clear. Their first-person narratives expose a
complex web of lies, secrets, deception, hidden rivalries, and disloyalty, demonstrating just how dysfunctional their relationships have become. It is through them that we get to know the three male members of the group, Duncan, Adam, and Jem and also learn about Lissa’s much-loved first husband, Graeme, who died following a
severe anaphylactic shock.
The air of mystery surrounding Lissa’s drowning is compounded by the fact that there is a centuries old legend surrounding the cove she swam from. Locals believe it’s inhabited by Kanu, a sea-serpent with an ‘appetite’ for young female victims. When Georgie first visits the cove, she has an encounter with one of the native islanders
who tells her that she shouldn’t go into the water because it’s too dangerous to swim there. When he warns her that ‘Kanu takes. Takes who wants taken.’ her disquiet was increased about why her friend had gone swimming in the dark, something Lissa was known to avoid. Intermittently throughout the story the reader’s sense of disquiet is
fuelled by brief contributions from an unidentified narrator who, in sections headed ‘How to Kill Your Best Friend’, explores the pros, cons, and likely effectiveness of eight different methods – but whose voice is it, who has murder on their mind?
Having read and loved Lexie Elliot’s first two psychological thrillers (The French Girl and The Missing Years) my expectations were high when I started this one. However, although there were some aspects of the story I enjoyed, unlike with her earlier stories I never felt fully engaged with it. I think this had a lot to do with the
pacing, which for much of the time felt too slow and laborious to create, and sustain, a satisfying sense of tension. However, I did enjoy her explorations of the complex dynamics of long-term friendships, the toxic effects of secrets and how fear and suspicion can undermine and contaminate any relationship. As the extent of, and reasons for, the ambivalences contained in Georgie and Bron’s accounts of their relationships with Lissa, with each other and with the male characters, were revealed, it became increasingly clear that both were unreliable narrators so, because the author’s portrayals were so credible, I did enjoy attempting to untangle fact from fiction in their recollections! I found that the male members of the group felt less well-developed than the three females. This was probably because none of them was given a narrative voice, but it did make the story feel rather unbalanced.
Open-water swimming plays a large part in the story and the author’s detailed descriptions conveyed a convincing picture of both the pleasures and inherent dangers of swimming in the sea – particularly when swimming for one’s life in a tropical storm! Even without warnings of a mythical (or was it real?!) sea-serpent I would never dare to
venture out of my depth so maybe this was why it was these scenes which engendered the most powerful sense of tension, danger and fearfulness as the story unfolded! As the author has been a keen swimmer since childhood, and has swum the English Channel, maybe it’s hardly surprising that these scenes were so disturbingly convincing!
I found that the ‘How to Kill Your Best Friend’ sections provided a delightful digression – enjoying the black humour whilst also feeling quite relieved to discover that even if one harboured such intentions towards a friend, the execution would pose an infinite number of problems! As the would-be perpetrator reflects at one point …
“The more I look at this, the more I realize how exceedingly difficult it is to kill a person- without immediately getting caught, I mean. Which is, ordinarily, a good thing, one supposes. Though not of much help to me now.” My only complaint about these sections is that there weren’t enough of them!