Source: Review copy
Publication: 09 April 2018 from Williams and Whiting
A missing girl.
Olivia’s idyllic family life in a Swiss mountain village is falling apart. She thought she’d managed to escape the past, but it’s coming back to haunt her. Has somebody discovered her secret – why she had to leave Scotland more than ten years ago? What is her connection to Marie, a lonely schoolgirl in a Yorkshire seaside town, and Lucy, a student at a Scottish university?
A story of the shadows of the past, the uncertainties of the present and how you can never really know anybody.
Smooth as silk, dark as the night and with a velvety touch that has echoes of a bitter aftertaste. Is this the latest Swiss chocolate? No, it’s an Alpine Noir from Alison Baillie.
Predominantly set in a Swiss mountain village, where the descriptions are so evocative that you can smell the pine trees and feel the cold, sharp air and the gleaming white snow as it crunches underfoot, this is a book that ranges from Switzerland, to Edinburgh and then Scarborough as the past informs the present in the lives of Olivia and her family.
On the face of it Olivia has an idyllic life. She and ger family live in a beautiful area of Switzerland and Olivia’s husband, Christian, teaches at the school where Olivia’s son, Christian’s step-son, Julian attends.
Their two young children Marc and Lara complete their family and Olivia enjoys spending time cooking Swiss delicacies for her family and feeling secure and content with her life.
Things change though when Olivia finds a note in her mailbox which sends a chill right through her bones. We now know Olivia has a secret. But what will she be prepared to sacrifice to make sure that secret is never divulged?
Then a child, a friend of Lara’s, goes missing on the children’s walk back from school. Despite an extensive search, she is nowhere to be found.
As the first cracks in the façade of the pristine snow begin to reveal themselves, is Olivia prepared for the ominous avalanche that will follow?
Fabulously atmospheric, this is a well written book that delights in twisting and turning the reader’s expectations every which way, until you begin to see the path that Baillie has cleared for you, but it’s by no means an easy walk through the haunting woods to get to the right conclusion.
I liked these central characters for the most perverse of reasons; not one of them was obviously or inherently likeable. I really engaged with Olivia, but that was because I have never before wanted so much to slap a character. Until you begin to understand Olivia’s backstory, it is quite difficult to comprehend why she gets such comfort out of being a Stepford wife clone, or indeed why she would have married Christian, a man with an iron rod through his back.
As events pick up pace and Olivia slowly starts to unravel, her judgement completely goes to pot, and her voyage of self-discovery is fraught with missteps and danger. Baillie paints her characters with brilliant colours and a thick oil paint, so you have to look closely between the layers to get a sense of where the book is heading, and be very careful not to go down the wrong path.
Olivia’s secret is one she wants to hang onto like grim death, yet perhaps it is giving it up that will finally free her.
This psychological thriller is creepy, suspenseful and filled with brilliantly drawn characters with foibles and machinations that you enjoy watching as a bystander.
There’s a great deal to enjoy in this book and I really look forward to more from this author.
About Alison Baillie
Alison was brought up in the Yorkshire Dales by Scottish parents. She studied English at the University of St Andrews, before teaching English in Edinburgh secondary schools and EFL in Finland and Switzerland, where she now lives. She spends her time reading, writing, travelling, playing with her grandchildren and attending crime writing festivals.
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