Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon

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Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Liz Green
Reviewed by Liz Green
Summary: A suspenseful page-turning whodunnit.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2016
Publisher: Corvus
ISBN: 978-1782399452

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In Try not to Breathe Holly Seddon offers an addition to the somewhat overflowing thriller shelves. Of course, the reason this particular segment is bursting at the seams is because thrillers, especially psychological ones, are just so compelling. And there have been some good -- and hugely successful -- books in this category out there of late (before-I-go-to-sleep-I'll-be-gone-with-a-girl-on-a-train). So how does Holly Seddon match up?

This one is a page turner all right. I'd have read it in one go if I weren't too old to forgo a whole night's sleep... Easy to read, well-executed and an interesting premise: Amy was attacked brutally as a teenager and her attacker was never found. Alex is a journalist hoping to solve the crime and starts digging into the history of the case, using her police officer ex-husband as a source of information.

Nothing particularly original there, you might think. But Amy has been in a coma for the last 15 years and Alex is a barely-functioning alcoholic and it's the interplay between, and portrayal of, these polar-opposite characters that makes the book so fascinating. Amy has been given a voice, albeit a faint one, and her thought processes are conveyed to the reader in an imaginative way. Between these glimpses into the mind of a comatose patient we are plunged into the depths of Alex's alcoholism. And Alex's world does not make for easy reading. In fact, some of the details of her life are enough to make you recoil in disgust. Not all readers will find Alex likeable but I did, not least because she was brutally open (and at the same time in complete denial) about her own condition. And what I liked most was the way Holly Seddon portrayed Alex's alcoholism without any judgement or criticism.

While I found Alex and Amy likeable and well depicted, some of the other characters are less believable. For example, Amy's boyfriend from her teenage years continues to visit her in hospital but has never told his wife about the very existence of Amy, which seems a tad unlikely. And none of the other characters is as nuanced or as carefully portrayed as Alex and Amy.

The book is divided into many short chapters told from the point of view of the various characters in turn. As the story progresses, Alex comes closer to the truth about Amy's attack and the reader will, naturally, try to pick up clues along the way. And this is where the book fell short. There just weren't enough of those delicious hints that make books in this genre so delightful, nor did I get that light bulb moment during the big reveal: 'Oh, so that's why he/she said such-and-such earlier... Of course!' And the denouement itself was a bit of a disappointment too. The identity of the attacker was plausible enough but the book would have benefited from more psychology, more clues into the mindset of the attacker, doled out as the story progressed rather than shoehorned in almost as an afterthought at the end.

Despite these criticisms, Try not to Breathe was a most enjoyable read. Holly Seddon has a lovely concise writing style and scores 100% for readability, making this the perfect choice for a long journey. It's not a stayer, but it was fun while it lasted.

For another novel about a woman in a coma, but in a different genre, try After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell (incidentally, one of the saddest but most brilliant books I've ever read). And Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin is an excellent thriller about a teenage girl abducted and attacked.

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