The Blurb On The Back:
She’s the most famous murder victim in the country.
What if she’s not dead?
Cara Burrows walked into the wrong hotel room.
She was never meant to see the girl.
The girl can’t have been Melody.
Melody was murdered seven years ago …
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s 9th October 2017. Cara Burrows has a plan: she’s spent a third of her family’s savings on flights from London to Phoenix, Arizona, hired a car and will be staying at the luxury Swallowtail Resort and Spa until 24th October. She’s left her husband Patrick and two children, Ollie and Jess behind because she needs to do some serious thinking.
After a long journey, she arrives at the spa after midnight exhausted and cranky and the last thing she needs is for the receptionist to send her to a room that’s already occupied by a man and a young girl. Still, these things happen and the apologetic receptionist upgrades her to a dazzling casita and she wouldn’t have thought anything of it except that another guest at the hotel tells her that she’s sure she’s seen Melody Chapa running around the resort.
Cara doesn’t know who Melody Chapa is but everyone in America does: Melody went missing 7 years ago and was presumed murdered by her parents, who were convicted and are currently in prison. As Cara reads about Melody’s case, she wonders if the girl she walked in on was really was Melody and how she could possibly still be alive …
Sophie Hannah’s standalone psychological thriller has some interesting things to say about the US justice system and how the media can distort high profile cases, leading to miscarriages of justice, but the story is hampered by a main character who never behaved in a credible way for me and a plot filled with contrivances and flat side characters such that I didn’t care about the resolution.
The big issue with the book for me is Cara Burrows and whether you believe in her enough to empathise with her. Unfortunately, I did not. For me, Cara makes a series of implausible, over-emotional decisions and leaps of logic throughout the book that made it very difficult for me to feel on her side. This starts with her decision to blow the family savings on the trip to Phoenix, the rationale for which had me rolling my eyes as it all seemed very drama queen to me – especially when you later get her husband’s side of the story. I could just about believe in her obliviousness to the Melody Chapa case on the basis that not all big media cases in the US get reported in the UK but I didn’t believe in her reaction to it or her journey to believing that it was Melody she saw in the room (and I especially didn’t believe her reaction to being challenged when she stumbled into the room in the first place).
The side characters are, for the most part, two-dimensional although I did like the Kansas florist Tarin Fry who’s staying at the spa with her bolshie teenage daughter Zellie and who calls out everyone else with a refreshing directness that almost made me wish she was the main character instead of Cara. Bonnie Juno is a stereotypical legal commentator who whips up the frenzy around Melody in the name of partisan justice while Detective Priddy arrives too late in the book to make much of an impact and the main characters of Melody’s parents and Kristie and Jeff Reville (the initial suspects in Melody’s murder) are seen only through the eyes of others or through the media coverage of Melody’s disappearance.
The use of summaries and having other characters recapping the Melody disappearance was an interesting one but, for me, didn’t work as it slowed pace and essentially served as info dumps that deadened the pace. The one possible exception was the transcript of an interview between Bonnie and a key witness in the case, who Bonnie manipulatively questions in such a way as to make it appear that she supports her theories. Hannah does make some interesting points about media coverage of suspected crimes and how it can skewer a court case.
Ultimately though, I didn’t care enough about Melody or Cara to care about the resolution to the story, which, when it comes, has one twist too many for me coupled with an open ending that I just found frustrating. This was the first Sophie Hannah novel that I’ve read but although it didn’t work for me I would still be interested in checking out her earlier work.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.