Kate, Izzy, Rowan and Jennifer have been best friends since university. This year, all four women turn 40, the ultimate excuse for celebrating with a week in the glorious sunshine of the sleepy countryside in southern France. With their families in tow, this will be the perfect holiday.
But Kate finds a clutter of damning messages soon after arriving, convincing her that her husband, Sean, is having an affair. And not just with anyone but with one of her best friends. She is unsure whether it is Izzy, a long-time friend who’s been travelling but now wants to settle down, or Jennifer, a stay-at-home and somewhat overprotective mum, or Rowan, a hugely successful businesswoman who arranged the holiday.
Kate is determined to find out who has sent her life into free-fall, but she cannot know that this is far more sinister than a seedy affair.
Although this thriller is far from fast-paced or high action, it has a wind-them-in-and-grip-them-hard quality. Moreover, the author’s credible and atmospheric descriptions pulled me into the French setting. I felt from the start, thanks to well-observed details, that the author knows the backdrop.
The tension slowly builds, a pressure cooker simmering away, and the reader senses that the rattling lid is going to blow off any minute. That well-known saying about fish and friends going off after three days rings true in this story, highlighting the difference between spending an evening with friends and spending an entire week with them on holiday.
The author tells the story through the different characters, with the main voice being the female protagonist Kate. I found the female characters, Kate in particular, slightly parodied. Perhaps this is because the author is a man and has relied on ‘seeing’ rather than feeling real women’s emotions.
I can’t believe Kate could be anything but inept and slightly tragic as a crime scene investigator – she’s far too wet and lacking the critical investigative skills necessary for her job. To continue playing happy families with her husband and randomly confiding in her friends under the circumstances, just didn’t ring true. I hope few women (or men) would handle the situation in the same way. However, her indecisive and often baseless introspections give the reader chance to walk with the three suspects in an Agatha Christie way. It also highlights how trust within friendships and relationships can so easily bend and snap.
Most of the adult characters are unlikeable and off kilter, which made it easy to hide the culprit behind a fog of misdirection. The teenagers are realistically irritating – moody, and secretive, and incapable of communicating with anyone but their peers. Even then, most of that happens via the internet and social media. The two younger children, one a brat and the other a goody-two-shoes, are equally convincing.
The big twist fell rather flat for me, but perhaps that is because one piece of foreshadowing was clunky, and from that moment I knew what was coming. I didn’t find the reason for Sean’s secrecy compelling either.
The story raises two questions; one about trusting our best friends, the other about protecting our children. From those points, I found this an excellent, easy and fun read that I could (husband long-since divorced) and did devour on holiday in my adopted country, France, with friends and my children – and with friendships and family still in one piece!