“ Genre: Crime / Thriller / Author: Paul Pilkington / Kindle Edition „
Like most people, I love a freebie. Free ebooks always seem like a great way to fill up my kindle, which I only tend to use when a bulkier book would be inconvenient to pack. Unfortunately, in my experience, these books are usually only free because no-one would buy them and very little money has been spent producing them.
'The One You Love', billed as a suspense thriller in the style of Nicci French and Sophie Hannah, topped the free ebook charts when I downloaded it. Somewhat worryingly, I noted that Amazon felt compelled to advise potential readers that the latest edition HAD been copy-edited and that readers who had purchased an earlier version could get an upgrade. (Since when do books work like computer programs?)
A quick glance at the reviews revealed a large number of readers who had purchased the book pre-upgrade and had given up in disgust upon encountering masses of errors, including spelling mistakes and places where chunks of text were clearly missing. This rang warning bells. Surely no author who cared about their work would allow it to be published in such poor condition? Despite these concerns, I downloaded a copy on the grounds that it would be nice to enjoy an unchallenging read on my holiday. (This was important as I knew most of my holiday reading would take place while a small child was crawling over and around me, thereby requiring most of my attention.)
== What's it about? ==
Emma Holden's hen night is interrupted by terrible news: her fiancé is missing and his brother has been brutally attacked in their kitchen. Could Dan have tried to kill his brother? As if this wasn't enough trouble, someone is stalking Emma and her family are hiding dark secrets from her. Can she find out the truth and save the one she loves? With the help of her brother, Will, and best friend, Lizzy, she's certainly going to try.
This is the first book in the 'Emma Holden suspense mystery trilogy' by Paul Pilkington, author of a previously published suspense story.
== What's it like? ==
Rather disjointed and fragmented. Pilkington wants to keep the reader in suspense by sharing what certain characters are doing without revealing their identity. Unfortunately, this results in a lot of confusion since the author uses the pronoun 'he' to describe his characters, rather than any more individual tag, even when the scene is focusing on two male characters. Sometimes even more awkward monikers are used, such as "the man who caused all this". I quickly found this irritating rather than suspenseful.
Of course, such minor issues wouldn't ruin a decent storyline. This story contains plenty of twists and turns, but I found these implausible rather than mysterious. It quickly becomes clear that this is the second time Emma has been stalked and the second time she has had a fiancé run out on her. Rather than making me feel sympathetic towards her, I felt incredulous.
The main character needs to be interesting, especially as she has a trilogy to carry. Instead, she is rather bland and lacking in emotion, especially for an actress. The reader never sees her grieving over Dan's disappearance, or getting angry at him, or doing anything other than being a bit confused. She accepts shocking revelations from her family with barely a blink, which is particularly annoying after reading pages and pages where they fret about telling her things.
The other characters are under-developed and exist purely to keep secrets from Emma. The idea that you can't trust anyone - especially family and close friends - is a well-worn trope in this genre, but these characters could still have been more fleshed-out.
More irritatingly, Pilkington either doesn't trust readers to be paying attention, or he is unfamiliar with the idea that authors should 'show, not tell'. The narration is often repetitive and occasionally redundant. A police officer on the phone sounds distracted, then Emma tells us that he sounds distracted. At another point we are told that 'wire mesh covered the window, indicating that this was probably an area that required some protection against glass breakages'. Surely the first clause implies the latter? Similar instances abound.
And yet none of this was the worst flaw. All of the above are forgivable if all the reader wants is a bit of forgettable entertainment while soaking up the sun. For me, the real problem was the book's structure. This is presented as the first in a trilogy, admittedly, but I still expected it to work as a standalone book. I'd understand the author throwing in a cliffhanger or two at the end - although I probably wouldn't much like it - but Pilkington hasn't actually finished this book.
Oh, it has an 'ending', but it's rather abrupt and, more importantly, completely insufficient; there are several very obvious narrative gaps left to be filled in by a later book. It's telling that the action in the sequel, 'The One You Fear', picks up one week after this book finishes. The sequel, by the way, is not free, although it's still very cheap (currently priced at £1.88). Essentially, the free book is a big hook to get readers to buy the next two.
== Final thoughts ==
Comparing this to Nicci French and Sophie Hannah could kindly be called ambitious. It lacks the genuine suspense of the former and the psychological depth of the latter. Despite its flaws, this could have been a reasonable suspense thriller if its author had been happy to create one complete book from all his material. Unfortunately, the 'ending' to 'The One You Love' is completely unsatisfying. There is just too much that is obviously unresolved.
I found this book very disappointing, though I feel it is worth mentioning that there are far more 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon than there are 1, 2 or 3 stars, and many of the really bad reviews were written pre-upgrade (still having trouble applying this concept to a book!) which means that my opinion is in a minority. Perhaps I wanted more from my beach read than I thought. Unsurprisingly, I won't be buying the follow-up, especially as I imagine it will develop in a similarly unsatisfactory way in order to make book 3 necessary.
However, the joy of a free book is that it is exactly that...free. So if you are even vaguely tempted by the premise, you may as well read the first chapter and delete the ebook from your reading device if you find it unsatisfactory. There is a time cost to be considered of course, but can nearly 1,500 Amazon readers really be *that* wrong?
Read this if:
- you enjoy quick-paced, dramatic thrillers that involve you questioning everything and everyone involved;
- you enjoy reading sequels / series of books in order to resolve all the questions you have;
- you like to relax with a very undemanding book.
Avoid this if:
- you like mystery thrillers with well-developed characters, a coherent plot and a mystery that is at least mostly resolved within the confines of one book;
- you dislike unrealistic scenarios and books that involve a lot of people acting the way they do because they are (lazily) presented as 'unhinged';
- you like well-written books that require careful attention to resolve the case.
This was a Kindle free book, and to sum it up in one phrase it would be: I'm glad I didn't pay for it.
The book opens with the central character, Emma, setting off on her hen-party, receiving a call from her brother who tells her that her fiancé, Dan, has failed to turn up for his stag night. Amid some panic Emma and best friend Lizzie leave the hen party to find out what's happened to Dan, and they discover his brother in their flat, having been brutally attacked and left for dead, with Dan nowhere to be found.
The story (in theory) follows the search for Dan, as he is initially assumed to be guilty of the attack. The central characters need to get to the bottom of what happened to him, and who attacked his brother that night, and why. Along the way a dark history starts to be uncovered which appears to involve Emma's brother, father and ex-fiance, Stuart, with an even darker secret apparently hidden and waiting to come out. Is the past linked to what happened that night?
The book is set in London in a contemporary setting.
There were two words that kept occurring to me whilst I was reading: "annoying" and "contrived". The story is littered with gratuitous end-of-chapter cliff hangers which either go unexplained until much later, or (equally annoying) in the first sentence of the next page, and also red herrings. There was an awful lot of cliché in there, with constant sideways references to "the secret" whilst keeping us completely in the dark about what it was, which soon became too much.
I didn't find the characters likeable at all, and wasn't inclined to care too much about them, especially Emma, who only seemed momentarily upset by her fiance's disappearance, auditioning for a lead role in a blockbuster movie on the day of her planned wedding, and attending functions alone.
The style of writing wasn't to my taste, the dialogue in this book was very often unbelievable and I just didn't find it engaging. Chapters are broken up with asterisks which may be only a paragraph apart sometimes, so things don't flow.
What I did do, however, was to keep reminding myself it was a free book - I have downloaded plenty of them, and I have to say that this is one of the better ones I've come across. In its favour was that the pace was fast moving and it had a good plot, it didn't require much concentration - in fact the least concentration the better as there were plenty of loopholes which remained unclosed and things you really shouldn't think too long about as they were probably plot inconsistencies. It did have a few decent plot twists along with some more contrived cringeworthy ones and it was an unchallenging read which did keep me guessing.
In terms of the writing, I can also find plus points - I prefer short chapters, and many of the chapters in this book are only a matter of pages. There was no bad language, or gratuitous descriptions of the attack, which personally I was pleased about!
~Sum it up~
My conscience won't allow me to recommend you download it, -but- it does appear to be permanently free so you've nothing to lose, and if you found yourself with nothing else to read and this is your genre, it's something to pass a few hours. I would not rush to buy another book by Paul Pilkington and thinking about it, I don't think I am even inclined to download the sequel even if free. I guess that says enough in itself. Nevertheless, this was a free book, it was readable, and it is a decent enough plot, so two stars.
In this suspense mystery by Paul Pilkington we meet a young actress, Emma Holden, whose life is about to get very complicated. On her hen night she learns that her fiancé, Dan, has gone missing and she finds his brother, Richard, unconscious on the bathroom floor of their flat, with a serious head wound. Is Dan responsible for the attack and, if so, why? The police seem to think so, but Emma can't bring herself to believe it. With the help of her brother, Will, and best friend, Lizzie, she embarks on an investigation of her own, determined to find her fiancé and uncover the truth. Emma can't shake off a nagging fear that history may be repeating itself, because her last boyfriend also walked out on her without an explanation. If all this wasn't disturbing enough, Emma has a stalker to contend with. Her quest to find Dan leads her into some very scary situations and forces her to confront a lot of unresolved issues from her past. In particular, a family secret that has been a simmering pot for years, is about to boil over. Will Emma find her fiance? Will Richard survive? Who can Emma really trust in an increasingly sinister world of deception, secrecy and manipulation?
What I thought
I found this an exciting, gripping novel. Although the plot summary makes it sound a little clichéd, the author's writing style brought lots of suspense and intrigue into what could have been a rather predictable story. I liked the way that he moved briskly from one scene to the next and from one character to another, never lingering too long on any particular scenario, so the reader got a real sense of fast moving events and the urgency that surrounds the situation. I loved the way that he would describe what was happening to one character, build up to a crucial point, and then leave things on a cliff hanger as he switched the focus to a different character and scene. What quickly becomes apparent is that none of the characters are quite what they seem when you first meet them. Pilkington often introduces a character in a straightforward, ordinary situation so we take them at face value, then later on he shows that character in a different situation, revealing a new, unexpected side to them, exposing weaknesses and contradictions. The more you read this book, the more threads start to untangle as you question your earlier assumptions about events and characters. It's a great narrative device for drawing you in. I liked the fact that in some chapters it is deliberately unclear who the author is referring to. Is it Dan? Is it Will? Is it Emma's father? Is it a total stranger? It really builds the tension as you try to guess who is being described.
I did start to feel that there were perhaps too many threads as it became rather confusing at times. I don't mind threads if they all get tied up satisfactorily by the end of the book, but I think there were a few that weren't. Without giving too much away about the story, I was left with unanswered questions concerning an image on one character's computer and how it got there, which was quite an important part of the plot but was never satisfactorily explained. Whether this was an oversight on the author's part or whether he wanted to make this more like real life, i.e. some things can't be so neatly tied up and some questions always remain, I don't know. It didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book but afterwards I found myself pondering over it a little, wondering if it was just me who had missed something. The more I thought about it, the more it niggled me.
Whilst I love a plot with lots of twists (and there are twists in this book literally up to the final line) I did feel that there were perhaps too many potential suspects. It reached the stage where I suspected everyone who was mentioned. Perhaps this would add to the excitement for many readers, but I got a bit overwhelmed trying to keep track. I liked the way that it kept me guessing almost to the end, however.
One of the things I enjoyed about this book was its London setting. I felt that the atmosphere of the capital was brought to life beautifully with descriptions of picnickers and sunbathers in Regents Park, homeless people in doorways, the views across London from the top of Primrose Hill where Emma goes for her run, the exclusive part of Notting Hill where Emma visits a rich film maker and the streets full of double decker buses plastered with adverts for West End shows. I could picture those places very clearly and the busyness of London life fitted perfectly with the frantic pace of this novel.
There were some chapters that had my heart racing, particularly at the start of the book when Emma goes to the flat to look for Dan. The description of her taking the steps two-by-two, fumbling with her keys in the lock as rock music blasts out from within, being dizzy with nerves, going through the rooms and the shocking, dramatic moment when Richard is found, injured and bleeding on the floor was very exciting and played like a film in my imagination. (It would make a very good film, I think.) Another good chapter covers Emma's visit to the home of her stalker, which involves her venturing bravely into a creepy basement. The author's attention not only to sights but smells makes this a particularly evocative, eerie chapter. I hardly dared turn the page as I wondered what might be lurking in the darkness.
Emma is a likeable, plucky heroine. I liked the way she and her friend, Lizzie followed their instincts and went off investigating without waiting for someone to give them permission or some man to protect them. They were modern, strong female role models. It's a refreshing reversal of the traditional story of a man looking for a girlfriend in danger. Although it's always a bit incredible and Scooby Doo-like when people in novels decide to investigate crimes themselves rather than leaving things to the police, I found Emma's determination to find her fiancé rung true. Some of the other characters were a little bit wooden though.
This book is currently available as a free download from Kindle. When I bought it, it was at the top of the 100 most popular reads. If you like whodunits with twists and turns, this is well worth reading, although its failure to tie up all the loose ends did leave me a little frustrated. For a freebie, I can't complain. I'm not the quickest reader usually but I raced through this, which shows how keen I was to discover the solution to the mystery. There were a few typos in the text, but nothing to distract me significantly from the story.