Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

The Blurb On The Back:

”Cross my heart and hope to die …”

Promises only last if you trust each other, but what if one of you is hiding something?  A secret no one could ever guess.

Someone is living a lie.

Is it Lisa?  Maybe it’s her daughter, Ava.  Or could it be her best friend, Marilyn? 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Lisa and Marilyn are best friends who work for a recruitment company in a small English town.  Confident, organised Marilyn is married to Richard, a builder and the meeker, less confident Lisa is a single mum to 16-year-old Ava, a keen swimmer about to sit her GCSEs and the two women have been best friends ever since Lisa started working for the company over 10 years earlier. But Lisa and Marilyn don’t know everything about each other – they are both keeping secrets that they don’t want the other to discover, just as Ava is keeping a secret from Lisa – a man she has met on Facebook …

It is difficult to review Sarah Pinborough’s psychological thriller without spoiling it but this is a well-executed, pacey read that centres on the relationship between the 3 women while taking on board physical and emotional abuse, intense friendships and a horrific crime that the media will never let people forgive or forget but I did find the antagonist to veer close to being two-dimensional and I wished the ending had been a little braver.

I really enjoyed the friendship between Lisa and Marilyn in this book and believed in the support they have for each other and the care they show for each other, even while at the same time neither knows all of the details of the other’s life.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Marilyn gees up Lisa to explore a potential romance with Simon Manning, a millionaire hotelier who has just given the recruitment company a lucrative staffing contract due to Lisa’s pitching skills.

This friendship forms a nice contrast with Lisa’s more fraught relationship with her daughter Ava, who is straining to cut the cord between them as she grows up and wants to be taken more seriously as an adult. I enjoyed Ava’s scenes with her friends Ange, Jodie and Lizzie and especially her confusion and ambivalence towards her boyfriend, Courtney (in part driven by her crush on the older man she has met through Facebook).  However, for plot reasons Ava’s voice disappears in the final quarter of the book, which is a shame as I would have liked to have seen a little more of her reaction to a key discovery and although I believed in her attitude towards on-line privacy and sharing personal data on social media, I’m not sure that I 100% bought into her credulity towards the Facebook crush or the fact that she keeps it entirely to herself (especially given her relationship with her friends) and would have liked to have seen a little more suspicion there.

The plot itself centres around a terrible secret held by one of the characters, which I will not spoil but which is topical and sensitively handled.  I believed in Pinborough’s depiction of the character at that time and the reasons and background to why it happened and I think that it raises interesting questions about the degree to which tabloid fury can blind people to context and results in people being hounded without questioning the potential for rehabilitation. Where I was slightly disappointed, though, was in a key revelation at the end, which for me kinda let the character off the hook when I thought that it would have been more interesting for it to remain because of the impact it would have had on the key relationships going forward.

I was also a little disappointed by the antagonist – a key person in the character’s past – mainly because the master-manipulator, psychopathic tendencies were, for me, overdone, which meant that they weren’t fully believable (and this is particularly the case when an ally of one character is able to uncover things about them that the police apparently can’t or won’t do themselves).

That said, I did find this a page-turning read and Pinborough fills the plot with enough twists and red herrings to keep you gripped from beginning to end and as such, I will definitely be reading what she writes next.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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