Publisher’s synopsis:

Erma Bridges’ life is far from perfect, but entirely ordinary. So when she is shot twice in a targeted attack by a colleague, her quiet existence is shattered in an instant.
With her would-be murderer dead, no one can give Erma the answers she needs to move on from her trauma. Why her? Why now?
So begins Erma’s quest for the truth – and a dangerous, spiralling journey into the heart of darkness.

Review

I was attracted by this synopsis, as well as by the gripping, inventive and utterly unpredictable description on the dust jacket, imagining that the story would be a dark, psychological thriller which, in many ways, is what it is. However, what the synopsis fails to reveal is the extent to which Erma’s first person narrative is regularly interspersed with a fantasy story about Sero The Barbarian, a character from a ‘choose your own adventure story’. Had it done so I almost certainly wouldn’t have chosen to read and review it because the fantasy/interactive- adventure genre isn’t one which attracts me.

Although I must admit to having been tempted not to finish the story, having agreed to review it, I did persevere and, having done so, can recognise that it is a well-executed story which certainly lives up to its promise of being ‘inventive and unpredictable’. I don’t want to risk any spoilers by going into any detail about the various sub-plots in the story but can reveal that they do, by the end, come together in a relatively convincing way. However, I would have preferred a less convoluted way of gaining insights into Erma’s complex and traumatic backstory. Although there were elements of the story which I did find engaging and compelling, especially the ratcheting up of tension as Erma attempted to uncover the truth, I found the periodic intrusions of the fantastical element far too distracting and irritating. I also found some of the very explicit descriptions of violence towards the end of the story not only disturbing but rather gratuitous.

The idea of a spiral drawing characters deeper and deeper into darkness is an appealing one but the pedant in me struggled with the idea of Sero being faced with choices on his journey down it. A spiral winds in a continuous line, offering no opportunities to make choices – this meant that I frequently found myself wishing the title had been ‘The Maze’ because choices are intrinsic to journeying through one!

Although I recognise the author’s clever, imaginative writing style, as a personal read I feel unable to rate this story any higher than 2*. However, I do recognise that it’s likely to hold huge appeal to many readers and it’s this very divisiveness which would make it a good choice for book groups – I’m sure some lively debate would ensue!

Review by Linda Hepworth
Personal read: 2*
Group read: 4*

Zaffre  (Imprint Bonnier Books UK)  24th December 2020
ISBN: 978-1-83877-302-1