Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for A Fractured Winter, the latest psychological thriller from author Alison Baillie. Set in a small Swiss community this is quite a tense and atmospheric read, but before we hear my full thoughts on the book, lets take a look at what it’s all about.
About the Book
A missing girl.
Olivia’s idyllic family life in a Swiss mountain village is falling apart. She thought she’d managed to escape the past, but it’s coming back to haunt her.
Has somebody discovered her secret – why she had to leave Scotland more than ten years ago?
What is her connection to Marie, a lonely schoolgirl in a Yorkshire seaside town, and Lucy, a student at a Scottish university?
A story of the shadows of the past, the uncertainties of the present and how you can never really know anybody.
What I love most about reading books set in other countries is the way you get a picture of the setting, the differences, both cultural and of nature, between there and the world that you are used to. This is none more prevalent than in A Fractured Winter, the story of a British Ex-Pat now living with her family in Switzerland, a story echoed by the authors own life albeit turned into (hopefully) a much more sinister and twisted tale than anything Alison Baillie has had to experience.
Whilst she may not have gone through the same things that Olivia goes through in this story, what it has allowed her to do is to draw upon her own feelings and experiences to draw a landscape which is both beautiful and yet has a real sense of danger while still maintaining and clear air of authenticity. I really felt as though I was there with Olivia, feeling the cold, sensing the ominous nature of the darkening sky, the isolation of the mountains where her brother in law lived and the gnawing feeling of being watched. All combined it creates a really atmospheric read, under pinned by a real sense of foreboding right from the off, something which soon sees Olivia’s fears turning into reality.
At the heart of the story is the case of a young girl who went missing on her way home from school. The girl in question was a close friend of Olivia’s own daughter and, as is clear from the beginning, Olivia has had a feeling she was being watched, making her fear for her own children’s safety and leading her to develop an acute need to do more to find the missing young girl. When another girl goes missing it only heightens Olivia’s level of paranoia and fear and coupled with a strange and mysterious note left in her post box while she was out, Olivia’s dread can only increase further. What follows is a story which combines Olivia’s present with the past of a young girl called Marie, drawing the two threads together in a very clever way.
Olivia is a strange character, hard to get to like as at many times she seems very weak and prone to making very poor decisions. There were times when I felt I could relate to her and I wanted to see her come good, and others where she frustrated me, her decision making poor and suspect. She is very trusting whilst still being highly suspicious of those around her. But does she trust the right people? She trusts her husband, although I really did wish that she had stood up to him more. Dormouse or Door Mat – the two are wholly interchangeable descriptions of Olivia at times.
Regarding other characters, I did like the irascible Stevie, an ageing musician with a strange love of sweeties and biscuits. Her son Julian needed a good boot up the bum with his awful attitude but given the circumstances the character was drawn very close to type of the awkward, argumentative, disenfranchised teenager. Olivia’s husband Christian, while I was initially sympathetic to him and the way he dealt with his wife’s obsessive behaviour, the more I got to know him the more he grated on me, although this family, his sister especially and his brother, were characters I could warm to more readily. Alongside them there are a while array of other characters who arose suspicion, those you feel you can trust, if perhaps not like and those who get the hackles up immediately. Sadly, unlike the reader, Olivia cannot see the wood for the trees in a very dense forest is intrigue and mystery and could pay a heavy price for her folly.
All in all this was a great psychological thriller, once which will have you on edge at times and perhaps looking over your shoulder and into dark shadowy corners a little more closely. While I had my suspicions over what was really happening, there were enough red herrings thrown in to keep me guessing and second guessing the true story and I found myself lost in the community of Wildenwil until the very last, if only to discover the true nature of Olivia’s own secret, one kept very carefully hidden until just the right moment. A great story, full of more chills than outright scary thrills but it worked perfectly and I’m looking forward to reading more by the author in the future.
My thanks to Alison Baillie and publishers Williams & Whiting for providing an advance copy of the book for review. It is available from the following retailers:
About the Author
Alison was brought up in the Yorkshire Dales by Scottish parents. She studied English at the University of St Andrews, before teaching English in Edinburgh secondary schools and EFL in Finland and Switzerland, where she now lives. She spends her time reading, writing, travelling, playing with her grandchildren and attending crime writing festivals.
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