‘Cruel Summer’ – James Dawson

This is a difficult review to write, as I enjoyed this book but it was all just too knowing for me (without some of the elements you get when it’s done really well).

The book opens with a chapter called ‘Fade In’…telling us about the moment Janey died. It’s strongly hinted that she was murdered. The book ends with a chapter called ‘Fade Out’ where we leave our characters with all manner of secrets revealed, and most of our questions answered. In-between this frame we are given a series of scenes telling us the story.

Katie and her group have friends have never really got over the apparent suicide of their friend Janey a year ago. They decide to go away on holiday to Katie’s villa…and, of course, they have questions about that night. Nobody wants to talk about it, but someone is about to force their hand.

So much for a relaxing break and a chance to catch up…another murder is on the cards!

We see events through the eyes of Ryan, our TV star in the making. He views everything as if it was his own personal TV show, which is a form of coping mechanism, but it means everything is elevated to a more significant status in an attempt to show its worthiness. It also means that there’s a rather irritating tendency to self-consciously deconstruct everything to tell us why it’s significant, or to force us into a certain train of thought. However, it does allow us to switch between the various characters in a way that works well.

There’s the standard cliches: jock, good girl, nerd…we think we know what to expect and Dawson plays up to this. We watch these supposedly ‘perfect teens’ implode as secrets are outed. Some of the secrets are given up more easily than others, and some offer more of a motive for murder than others.

Throughout, I felt like I was reading a paint-by-numbers screenplay for a teen scary movie. It was good fun, but didn’t move beyond what we’d expect. If you want to know who did it, you’ll have to read the book. You might well have sussed it very early on, but it’s good fun watching our various characters work things out.