Dear Amy

Dear Amy - Helen Callaghan

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Entertaining but not much more than that, I'm afraid. I liked reading this novel, only the mystery wasn't so deep, and I kept wondering why other characters didn't challenge this or that plot point more.

It started well enough with Margot, our narrator, struggling in her personal life: her ex-husband wants the house, she's pondering her own anxiety-related issues (not to mention “shouldn't I go off my meds now that I'm feeling better?), and one of her former students has vanished in strange circumstances. On top of her job in posh St. Hilda's school in Cambridge, she also manages an agony aunt column, “Dear Amy”, in a local newspaper. So when letters are sent to her mailbox at said newspaper, from a girl who was abducted and probably killed some twenty years ago, this only adds to Margot's confusion, while nevertheless pricking her curiosity. There could be a life at stake here... and perhaps even more.

The original abductee, Bethan Avery, was never found, and it's clearly weird for her to be writing letters, all the more because, from their tone, it seems she's still captive! So is she a victim, or an accomplice? I thought this was quite a challenging premise. I still think it is. However, two issues arose while I was reading:

1/ I found it easy enough to guess the outcome of the mystery around Bethan.
2/ This part of the novel led to several plot holes that were never filled. For instance, it was never made clear whether the police tested the letters for fingerprints, and too many people either dismissed them as a prank, or didn't wonder enough about how Bethan-the-captive-girl could've sent them. As a result, it diminished their importance, made the whole thing seem far-fetched, and I think that's part of what allowed me to sense what was wrong here, and take an eductaed guess (turned out I was right).

My other gripes in general concerned:
- How the characters weren't so much fleshed out as placed there like “token psychological thriller chars” (the psychologist, the potential love interest who helps the narrator...);
- The handling of mental disorders, both through the narrative and through other chars (that Greta psychologist was rather inept);
- Some cliché plot devices, like the culprit's actions (creepy but could've been handled better), or both landline AND mobile phone cut at the same time (is GSM cover so bad around Cambridge, and do all batteries die so quickly? I never kill mine like that, and that's after spending commuting time playing games on it...);
- And, to be honest, I didn't really connect with Margot or anyone else in the novel. Mostly they were too infuriating, in one way or another, and didn't redeem themselves much through other actions or personality traits.

That said, I liked parts of the second main arc (the abducted girl one). It highlighted the plight of all the murdered girls, as well as Bethan's. It allowed for a thrilling intruder-in-the-hope scene. Its ending was sort of predictable, but somehow that didn't matter too much, because it's kind of what I wanted to read anyway.

On the side of writing: I don't know if this was because I read an ARC—maybe this was changed in the published version—but often present and past tense mixed in a scene or even a paragraph without the narrative justifying it, and I found this jarring.

1.5 stars? I can't say I hated this book, but it's a mix between “OK” and “slight dislike”—I really wish the idea at its root had been handled better...