Cruel Summer by James Dawson

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Cruel Summer by James Dawson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Hugely entertaining murder mystery with a great plot and a brilliant climax is one to savour.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Indigo
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1780621081

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Twelve months after Janey Bradshaw's suicide, her friends get together in a secluded Spanish villa. After a year apart, there's a lot to talk about - but the elephant in the room is Janey's death. Ryan Hayward isn't convinced she killed herself - and when someone else from their old school turns up, they seem to confirm his suspicions. Except very quickly, there's another dead body, and Ryan and his friends need to get rid of the corpse. Of course, where there's a murder victim, there's also a murderer - who can it be? Will anyone stay alive to find out?

This reads like a throwback to the late eighties and early nineties in many ways - and not just because of the lack of mobile phone signal in the holiday home. Dawson is an avowed fan of the Point Horror books and cites them as an inspiration for his own writing. He's perfectly captured the mixture of horror and fun which ran through the best of them here, with a slightly tongue-in-cheek approach to the scares but a lot of thrills as well. It makes it a hugely entertaining read, which may finally pull me out of the reading slump I've been in for the last week or two!

Most of the story is told from the point of view of Ryan, a rather narcissistic teen who thinks of life as a TV series with himself and his friends as the stars. It's an interesting device which generally works really well, and the changes to a couple of other characters' POVs help break it up. The twists and turns of the plot, the genuinely scary moments, and an ending which is unpredictable but actually makes perfect sense - with a great motive revealed - means this is one I'd highly recommend. (It's also notable for being one of the few books I've ever read where I had no clue who, if anyone, would survive, right up until the final page!)

In addition to Point Horror, the other influence Dawson has cited is Christopher Pike. This is in many ways reminiscent of Pike's best work, Final Friends, and I think fans of this one would love that too.

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