The moment I read the pre-publication reviews for Heatstroke – ‘intoxicating’, ‘compulsive’, ‘darkly gripping’, ‘tense’, ‘sultry’, ‘atmospheric’ – I was powerless to resist it. They’re the magic words that sum up my perfect book … and they were sooooo right!
contemporary fiction | thriller | suspense
The summer burns with secrets …
It is too hot to sleep. To work. To be questioned time and again by the police.
At the beginning of a stifling, sultry summer, everything shifts irrevocably when Lily doesn’t come home one afternoon.
Rachel is Lily’s teacher. Her daughter Mia is Lily’s best friend. The girls are fifteen – almost women, still children.
As Rachel becomes increasingly fixated on Lily’s absence, she finds herself breaking fragile trusts and confronting impossible choices she never thought she’d face.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Author – Hazel Barkworth | Published by Headline on 26th May 2020 | 320 Pages (kindle)
I would like to thank Hazel Barkworth for sending me a copy of #Heatstroke in return for an honest review.
Heatstroke is a stylish, provocative story of a missing teenage girl; Lily. Unlike others of a similar plot, this story isn’t told by her parents, a friend, or even a sibling. It’s not even told by the missing girl herself. This story is told by Rachel.
Lily’s disappearance only comes to light when she doesn’t come home as expected. She told her parents she was having a sleepover with friends at Mia’s … but she told Mia and her friends she wasn’t feeling well so she was staying home. And so begins every parents’ worst nightmare. But, as I’ve just said, Lily’s parents don’t get to tell this story; they are, at best, bit-parts in Rachel’s narrative.
In amongst the suspense fiction of the missing girl, some unflinchingly observed realities are also being playing out: the dichotomy of balancing individual identity against the all-consuming role of motherhood; the shifting boundaries of privacy and secrecy; the deeply rooted power and fragile vulnerabilities of the mother-daughter bond.
This tightly-wound story is set during a stifling hot summer, and the relentlessly oppressive heat plays as much a part in the plot as the characters themselves. The pressure is only relieved, in the tiniest of increments, as and when Rachel chooses. And it’s Rachel who feeds the reader tidbits about Lily – everything we discover is all controlled by Rachel. Despite the sun-baked heat, this book is overcast with a an unmistakable noir.
The story reveals itself through chapters that’ve been elegantly structured to deceive; relentlessly coaxing the reader from Rachel’s home, to Lily’s school, before plunging without warning into passages too hazy to focus on properly.
They’re so interdependent that it’s impossible to dissect Rachel’s character development from the story’s plot progression. With every chapter – every paragraph, almost – I learned a little more about the complexities and duplicities of Rachel. A lot of what I’d learned didn’t become completely clear until much later in the book … too late to really save her from the opinions I’d formed by then. She’s an incredibly difficult character to like; increasingly so as the story progresses, and yet she somehow maintains a vulnerability that I couldn’t ignore.
Heatstroke is the epitome of compulsive page-turner; I found it almost impossible to look away. It’s a simple plot that’s wrought with complexities, misdirection, and crawling tension. An abhorrent slick of obsession taints everything it touches, and a dark sensuality thrums just beneath the surface. Fans of Christine Mangan, Harriet Tyce, and Rachael Blok will soak up the tension, and revel in the certainty they’re being deliberately and deliciously misled.
Hazel is a graduate of both the Oxford University MSt in Creative Writing and the Curtis Brown Creative Novel-Writing Course. She lives in London with her partner, and works as a cultural consultant. Her debut novel Heatstroke will be published by Headline in 2020.