Cruel Summer by James Dawson
Published: 1 August 2013 (Indigo)
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Plot Summary (from Goodreads):
A year after Janey’s suicide, her friends reunite at a remote Spanish villa, desperate to put the past behind them. However, an unwelcome guest arrives claiming to have evidence that Jane was murdered. When she is found floating in the pool, it becomes clear one of them is a killer. Only one thing is for certain, surviving this holiday is going to be murder…
I loved Hollow Pike by James Dawson, and was completely intrigued by the idea of his latest book! Cruel Summer follows a group of friends as they come to terms with their friend's apparent suicide. But there's just that niggling doubt in all of their minds that something wasn't quite right that night, and that someone in the group knows more than they're letting on. As the group take up residence in a holiday villa in Spain, there's no place to hide and secrets start to come to light.
So let me start off by saying that when I'm not reading YA, I am devouring crime. One of my favourite authors of all time is Mark Billingham, a British detective fiction writer. When I heard about Cruel Summer and the fact is was a murder mystery - a YA murder mystery - I knew I HAD to get my hands on it. Luckily the author was at Leakycon, as were some very lovely booksellers, so I managed to grab myself a copy.
The prologue opens with Janey's death, which is the spark of the story. Then we're introduced to Janey's group of friends which includes Ryan and his bff Katie, Katie's on-again-off-again boyfriend Ben, twins Alisha and Greg and Greg's girlfriend Erin, as well as super-bitch Roxanne. They're such a fantastic bunch of characters with wicked personalities, and as it becomes clear that one of the group is hiding something, suspicion turns to literally everyone. I had no idea who to trust or who to suspect but I loved that it kept me guessing!
My favourite thing about Cruel Summer, and therefore one of the things I have to mention early in my review, is the way the story is narrated. The book is told in third person from various characters POV, but the predominant character is Ryan, and Ryan admits he sees his life like a TV show. That means the book is narrated as such, with chapters titled "scene one" or "flashback" and Ryan gives this little commentary on what would be happening right now if it were in fact a TV show. I thought it was just a fantastically brilliant way of telling the story. It made it more exciting and visual, and really fitted in well with the plot and style of the book. Even when we get to see chapters from other characters perspective, such as Alisha, they take on Ryan's style and reference his quirky way of referring to things like a TV show.
I think a great thriller needs to deliver plot twists, and have the ability to get you so caught up in the plot that it can make you squirm. Cruel Summer delivered on both of those points. I probably use the phrase jaw-dropping a lot in reviews, but never has that phrase been so freakingly accurate as my reaction when reading this book. There were plot twists all over the place, and cliffhangers that meant I couldn't bare to put the book down. And it so delivered on the creepy factor! I also loved how all the little bits of information that don't seem that significant at the time are dotted throughout the book, later coming back to play a huge role. It was so cleverly done.
The book is set the summer after most of the gang's first year of university, and involves a lot of reflection over their last year of school. As well as the mysterious death they have to deal with, there's also a bucket load of unresolved drama between the group with love triangles and friendship dramas aplenty. I particularly liked Ryan's storyline which I can't say too much about for fear of spoilers! And Alisha had some fantastic moments too. I thought the relationship between the friends was spot on. I loved the dialogue between them and how, even though this is a thriller, I still laughed a lot. The writing was modern and slick, and the little pop culture references dotted throughout the book just added to my enjoyment of the story and made the characters and story feel pretty darn realistic.
The climax of Cruel Summer was definitely an adrenaline rush. I was reading the book in the same room as my sister and I kept shouting things like "no way!" and thoroughly confusing her with my outbursts. But guys, this book is incredible. I want more YA murder mysteries like this please! The characters were incredible, the plot was gripping and tense and the writing was fantastic. I'll be recommending this book a lot in future.
Books like this: Hollow Pike by James Dawson, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry