Review: Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan


I’ve just finished reading Dear Amy, a chilling psychological thriller. This is the blurb: “Margot Lewis is the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner. Her advice column, Dear Amy, gets all kinds of letters – but none like the one she’s just received:

‘Dear Amy,
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery’

Bethan Avery has been missing for years. This is surely some cruel hoax. But, as more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public.”

In the novel we follow Margot as she gets sucked into a nightmare, driven by the kidnap of Katie, one of the pupils at the school where she works (alongside her part time gig as agony aunt.) If you’re a writer, you’ll know the term ‘unreliable narrator’, and it becomes clear as you read the book that Margot the teacher and competent agony aunt isn’t the person you first think. He husband has had an affair and left her: from the very start we can see that she is emotionally vulnerable, but more of the secrets of her past emerge page by page. Margot’s story is inextricably intertwined with the letters she is receiving, and with the missing girl.

As the book progresses, so does Margot’s divorce: there’s a confrontation with her husband’s lover too. And we learn more about why Margot is taking medication, why she has been sectioned to a local psychiatric hospital in the past. The more Margot unravels, though, the closer she gets to finding out why Bethan Avery is writing to her after being missing for twenty years, and how this might help her save Katie.

I read most of the book on a train journey to and from London, and was sufficiently interested to wangle a free hour to finish it off the next day. It is gripping and scary: perhaps not one for bedtime reading for the nervous. The plot twists and turns are coherent and well planned. At almost every point of reveal you have the ‘ah’ moment where you realise how everything you read on the previous pages links in. There is a growing new relationship for Margot, which is nice in the sense of wrapping up all the ends, but the book works just fine without the ‘ideal new man’ aspect!

Dear Amy is released on 16 June and costs £7.99 on Kindle and around £12 hardback at time of writing.

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Disclosure: I received the eBook of Dear Amy free of charge via Netgalley.

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Short fiction: Iris if

flower-874980_640‘If I were a butterfly …’
She scowls at the page. It’s worse than ‘What I did on my holidays’. Everyone else seems to be writing: faces to pages, pens to paper, words flowing.
“Stop looking out of the window, Iris!”
Mr Martin always has a down on her, she thinks as she turns back to the blank page. He’s walking closer, coming to check what she’s done. ‘If I were a butterfly’, she writes, ‘I’d be dead by winter’. Dead. Flat on the pavement, delicate scaled wings scraping against the concrete, smeared by thoughtless shoes. Or worse: pinned in a collection like the one in the museum. She glances around the classroom and wonders: would that really be so much worse than being pinned to this desk, day after day, one of thirty specimens? ‘British school child, age fifteen, local variations in school uniform’, just as the Victorian collectors laid out their butterflies. She has drifted again, hand still, eyes focussing across the field.

“Iris! Do you want to have to stay after class to finish your work?”
Her gaze drops, but her mind is full of green grass, chasing the daisies that start where the playing field ends. A row of lime trees mark the boundary between the school and the uncut meadow where fritillaries and cabbage whites dance with buttercups and poppies.
‘If I were a butterfly,’ she writes again, ‘I wouldn’t be here. I’d be out in the sunshine, making the most of every second of my short life!’
“Iris!” Mr Martin shouts.  “Where’s that girl going?”
But the words grow faint in Iris’s ears as she pelts down the corridor, through the doors, across the sports field, over the fence by the lime trees and into the meadow.