This is a tense, keep-you-guessing-to-the-last-page thriller, set mostly at a ski station at the top of a glacier in the French Alps in winter. It’s told in two timelines, Now and Ten Years Ago and revolves around a group of two women and three men who are all haunted by the disappearance and apparent death ten years ago of Saskia, a snowboarder that they were each intimately involved with.
In the Now, a group of people who last met ten years earlier have been invited to a reunion of sorts in an otherwise deserted, out-of-season ski station at the top of the glacier. No one accepts responsibility for having set up the reunion and, from the moment that they arrive at the station, strange things start to happen that threaten to reveal long-held secrets, re-open deeply-felt hostilities, and rekindle old attractions. The questions no one wants to voice but no one can ignore are, ‘Who invited them here and why?’ and ‘Is one of them a killer?’
In the Ten Years Ago, we meet the same group, plus Saskia, then in their twenties, coming together as five of them, Saskia plus the men and one of the women, Milla, spend the season in the French Alps preparing to compete for a top-ranked place in the British Open Snowboarding Competition. Their sport is dangerous. They all need to win to make their careers as professional athletes but the rivalry between Saskia and Milla is the fiercest and becomes a no-holds-barred contest of wills.
The story is told from Milla’s point of view. In Ten Years Ago, she’s the newest member of the group and the one with the most to prove and the most to lose. In the Now, she’s the one who at first seems to have the most to hide.
What I like most about this book was how authentic it felt. I’ve often struggled to understand the motivation of people who do extreme sports like riding the Halfpipe in snowboarding competitions. Get it wrong and you cripple yourself or end up dead. Even when you get it right, you’re likely to end your short career with metal bolts holding your bones together or knees that don’t work anymore. So why do it? Allie Reynolds brought the sport to life for me. Not just the adrenaline rush of being in the air, upside down above unforgiving ice, but the culture of relentless competitiveness with each other and the need to push their own limits that drives these athletes. The sense of place is very strong and so is that feeling of being totally immersed in a group and an activity that separates you from the rest of the world and becomes your entire life.
The plot is twisty and full of surprises. The prose is crisp and the pace is mostly brisk but without feeling hurried. One of the problems with the Ten Years Ago / Now structure is keeping up the tension in both timelines. In the Now, this is partly done by how creepy the out-of-season ski station is and by the tricks someone is playing on the group and the distrust that is generated. But there’s a lot more going on in the Ten Years Ago timeline and what we find out in that timelines changes what we think is going on in the Now. I found the Ten Years Ago part quite intense but the Now seemed to lag a little in the middle. It was nothing that put me off reading the book. I really wanted to know what had happened and what was going to happen.
In the last third of the book, the two timelines converged, the tension cranked up and the action in the Now was so intense and the reveals in the Ten Years Ago so unexpected, that I stayed up late to finish the book.
I had a great time with this thriller. I admired the fact that Allie Reynolds delivered a tense atmosphere, a surprising plot in an exotic location and yet most of my attention was on the people. Most of them, including Milla, the main narrator, were not easy to like. They are all flawed and they all have something to feel guilty about, which is part of what made the novel work so well.
I’ll be reading Allie Reynolds’ next book ‘The Bay’ when tt comes out next year.
Kenna arrives in Sydney to surprise her best friend, shocked to hear she’s going to marry a guy she’s only just met. But Mikki and her fiancé, Jack, are about to head away on a trip, so Kenna finds herself tagging along for the ride.
Sorrow Bay is beautiful, wild and dangerous. A remote surfing spot with waves to die for, cut off from the rest of the world. Here Kenna meets the mysterious group of people who will do anything to keep their paradise a secret. Sky, Ryan, Clemente and Victor have come to ride the waves and disappear from life. How will they feel about Kenna turning up unannounced?
As Kenna gets drawn into their world, she sees the extremes they are prepared to go to for the next thrill. And everyone seems to be hiding something. What has her best friend got involved in and how can she get her away? But one thing is rapidly becoming clear about The Bay: nobody ever leaves.