Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

DIstress SignalsAdam Dunne has a good life. A loving girlfriend in Sarah and his career in writing has finally taken off with a script accepted by Hollywood. And then it all falls apart…

Sarah leaves for a work trip to Barcelona, but almost immediately, she breaks contact with Adam. It soon transpires that her office knows nothing about the trip and she can’t be located anywhere in Barcelona. And then a package arrives, addressed to Adam. It contains Sarah’s passport and a post-it note, yielding the simple phrase – I’M SORRY – S

Soon Adam has tracked down her last whereabouts – the cruise ship Celebrate – and the hunting ground of a serial killer. For Sarah isn’t the first person to vanish from the ship – and she won’t be the last…

I was sent this one by the publishers, Corvus Books. Not entirely sure how they got my address – think I’ve got on a list somewhere as I’ve had a couple of surprise books recently, Find Her for example – but I’m rather pleased that they did. This is the debut novel from Catherine Ryan Howard and it’s an utterly gripping thriller.

The primary narrative is from the point of view of Adam, as his frustration builds as he continually runs into dead-ends in his search for Sarah. The author never gives Adam time to wallow, however, as the plot never stops moving forward, and it’s constantly evolving in ways you don’t expect. There are some other points of view as well – a woman Corinne who is already on the ship and flashbacks to the troubled upbringing of a young French boy Romain. Both stories have clearly got something to do with the story – but neither is going where you might expect.

It’s an incredibly readable book. One day I’m going to do a post about those books that you just can’t put down and what makes them that way – if I can ever work out what it is. Regardless, this was one of those books. Howard is an accomplished writer who never allows her characters to waste pages on introspection when the story can be moving forward, whilst never seeming to rush matters.

The nit-pickers may quibble about one too many coincidences in the tale and the villain’s overall scheme does need a liberal sprinkling of “he/she’s a nutter if they think it will work” but if you don’t overthink things (no chance now I’ve mentioned it – whoops) the book gets away with it.

I’ll say no more about the plot – the less you know the better – but this is a cracking debut from an author that I’ll be looking out for in the future. An unexpected treat and Highly Recommended.

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