Source: Review copy
Publication: 9 January 2020 from Bantam Press
It’s been 192 days, seven hours and fifteen minutes since her last drink. Now Astrid is trying to turn her life around.
Having reluctantly moved back in with her mother, in a quiet seaside town away from the temptations and painful memories of her life before, Astrid is focusing on her recovery. She’s going to meetings. Confessing her misdeeds. Making amends to those she’s wronged.
But someone knows exactly what Astrid is running from. And they won’t stop until she learns that some mistakes can’t be corrected.
Some mistakes, you have to pay for . . .
I loved Kara’s The Rumour, so was really keen to read Who Did You Tell? Kara writes small seaside town life really well, conveying the slightly decaying and claustrophobic atmosphere of Flintstead – a town where everyone knows everyone else and is always a bit too interested in the other’s business.
Astrid Phelps is our protagonist. She’s come home to live with her mum because she’s just out of rehab. At 32, Astrid is a recovering alcoholic. She knows she needs to put her life back together and at her mother’s insistence is attending AA meetings, but Astrid has demons from her past that she can’t outrun.
In AA Astrid meets Helen and Rosie. She likes Helen, who has the same slightly cynical attitude to the mantra’s of AA, BUT Rosie, older and wiser, counsels Astrid that these things matter in times of severe stress.
Astrid is a mess, but meeting Josh Carter on the beach has been a huge boost to her confidence. Once an artist, she is further thrilled when Josh’s dad offers her some work installing and painting a trompe l’oeil in his home.
Josh is immensely likeable. He is handsome, caring, and seemingly smitten with Astrid. You just know it’s all going to go wrong, don’t you?
But she isn’t ready yet to tell Josh about her past or her addiction and the lengths she goes to in order to avoid setting foot in the last chance saloon make her life full of tension and temptation.
Told in the first person, readers will find themselves questioning just how reliable a narrator Astrid really is.
Kara makes a great job of telling Astrid’s story; keeping the best elements until they will make the greatest impact. As an alcoholic she has everything you might expect. Subject to strong cravings; suffering from being unable to rust herself and knowing her mother doesn’t trust her at all. Astrid wants to love Josh, but she has no self-confidence and finds herself full of self-doubt, and worst of all, terrible, terrible guilt.
Astrid harbours an awful secret. She believes she is responsible for a life that was lost. Her previous boyfriend Simon committed suicide and Astrid can’t forgive herself. Simon was also an alcoholic and now everywhere she goes she gets reminders of him. She can smell his aftershave, she’s sure she sees his clothes in a charity shop, and all the time she has the feeling that she is being watched.
How much of this is her alcoholic paranoia the reader cannot know, but what we can see is Astrid struggling under extreme pressure, which reaches boiling point when she realises that Josh’s dad knows something about her situation.
Worse, it seems that someone else knows her secret and is sending her ever more poisonous pen letters.
Is there anyone she can trust, or will Astrid spiral out of control as once more it seems that everything in her life is going wrong?
Verdict: Kara’s writing exquisitely conveys the atmosphere and tension of Astrid’s life in this small seaside town. Astrid’s struggles are realistically portrayed and the levels of suspicion are layered and twisted until the reader suspects everyone. Who Did You Tell is a psychological thriller that sucks you in and is full of suspense.
Lesley Kara is an alumna of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course. She completed an English degree and PGCE at Greenwich University, having previously worked as a nurse and a secretary, and then became a lecturer and manager in Further Education. She lives on the North Essex coast.