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Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

May 21, 2016

Did she leave, or was she taken?

The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads ‘I’m sorry – S’ sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.
Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate – and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground…

Adam Dunne has spent years trying to make it is a professional writer in his native Cork. Years in which he has been supported by his loving, long term partner, Sarah. Finally he is about to make it all good – his script has been optioned for a Hollywood movie and he just needs to settle down to work on the rewrites before success can finally be his.

So when Sarah tells him she needs to go to Barcelona on a work trip, Adam knows this will give him the dedicated time for writing that he needs, and he happily drops her off at the airport.

She texts Adam once she has arrived and Adam settles down to his writing. But when days pass and he hasn’t heard from Sarah again, Adam starts to worry. At first he thinks that maybe she is just very busy, then that maybe has lost her phone. Finally he calls her office only to discover that she has apparently called in sick and was never meant to be working in Barcelona.

Then he gets a note, attached to Sarah’s passport, with the simple words, “I’m sorry”.  Adam can’t believe that Sarah has left him, but he has huge problems trying to convince anyone to take him seriously. Adam turns to Sarah’s best friend, Rose who tells him that Sarah wasn’t happy with him. Sarah’s parents are alarmed but the police can’t get enthused about Sarah’s disappearance. After all, as the Garda tell him, Sarah is a grown woman who clearly left of her own volition.

There’s a logo on the post -it note from Sarah (and, cleverly, there was also one on my arc of the book).  This logo helps Adam trace Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate, and to Peter whose wife, Estelle, disappeared from the same ship almost a year before. But Adam soon finds that maritime law is a nightmare in this situation; the pretty standard use by cruise companies of  flags of convenience mean that the cruise company has a very strong hand when it comes to crime aboard its ships.

On the Celebrate we meet more characters; Corinne, a cabin maid and Romain, a French boy from Picardy whose horrifying and sad life we learn about through flashbacks.

I wondered how these characters would all tie together and in Catherine Ryan Howard’s debut novel, nothing is predictable. She is a new, strong, voice in fiction and her characters are very well drawn and believable.

There are many twists and turns to the plot and though I found the ending a little too pat in terms of the tying together of all the threads, there is no doubt that she is a welcome new voice with compelling and fresh ideas.

Distress Signals was published by Corvus on 5th May 2016

One Comment
  1. Grace permalink

    Well, I don’t care what happened, I’m still going on a cruise! Enjoyed this one, thanks.


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