Under The Ice by Rachael Blok

The Blurb On The Back:

It is the week before Christmas and the cathedral city of St Albans is blanketed by snow.  But beneath the festive lights, darkness is stirring.  The frozen body of a young girl is discovered by the ice-covered lake.

The police scramble for clues.  A local woman, Jenny, has had visions of what happened the night of the murder.  But Jenny is an exhausted new mother, whose midnight wanderings pull her ever closer to the lake.  Can Jenny be trusted?  What does she really know?

Then another girl goes missing, and the community unravels.  Neighbour turns against neighbour, and Jenny has no idea who to believe.  As Christmas approaches, Jenny discovers a secret about her past – and why she could be key to everything …  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 14thDecember.  Jenny Brennan lives with her husband, Will, and baby Finn in a cottage near the park in St Albans.  Will works as a lawyer in the city but Jenny’s currently on maternity leave and although she isn’t in a rush to get back to work any time soon, she finds being on her own with Finn difficult – she feels exhausted all the time and has been sleepwalking around the lake at night.

When the body of 14-year-old Leigh Hoarde is found under the ice in the lake, Jenny realises that she’s had a vision of the night of Leigh’s murder and then she finds the girl’s wallet by the lake during one of her sleepwalking sessions and hands it into the police.  Detective Chief Inspector Maarten Jansen and Detective Inspector Imogen Deacon are heading up the investigation and both are suspicious of the way in which Jenny keeps turning up in their investigation.

Then a second girl goes missing – a friend of one of Jansen’s own daughters.  Jenny is sure that she knows something about this disappearance too but exhausted and sleep-deprived, she can’t work out what is real and what is not and her husband, Will, fears for her emotional well-being.  But Jansen is sure that Jenny holds the secret to this case, if they can just work out how and what she exactly knows …

Rachael Blok’s debut literary psychological thriller has an interesting central hook but ultimately this is a disappointing affair where Jenny remains a shallow character and the antagonist was easy to guess and I found the writing repetitive and lacking in precision.  What really irritated me was the fact that the police procedural side of it is poor and lacks credibility  such that I wouldn’t rush to read Blok’s next book.

I liked the central hook of the book, particularly the idea of a woman dealing with a young baby and enduring the sleep deprivation that goes with that while simultaneously not having the practical and emotional support from her husband that you’d perhaps wish for.  However the way Blok linked this in with Jenny’s sleepwalking just seemed hackneyed and cliched and I didn’t think that it really existed for any purpose other than to keep the plot moving.  This isn’t helped by the fact that Blok’s writing of the sleepwalking scenes (which is supposed to have a dreamy, hazy quality) is repetitive and deliberately lacking in precision to an extent that it felt waffly and, for me, slowed the pace.  Blok ultimately tries to wrap Jenny’s family history into the main plot but again, this is ham fisted and a little soapy.

I similarly wasn’t that interested in the detectives – Maarten Jansen’s defining characteristic seemed to be that he’s Dutch but working in the UK (for reasons that aren’t really explored) and has an offer of a job offer back in Rotterdam that he may or may not take.  Imogen Deacon is a one-dimensional side-kick who doesn’t really do much in the plot other than be suspicious of Jenny.  What particularly annoyed me though was that there appears to be a lack of research into the police procedural elements – most notably in a scene where the detectives seem to think that they can’t prosecute an assault if the victim doesn’t want them to, even when the assault took place right in front of the police.

The antagonist was, for me, pretty easy to guess and the only reason I missed a twist towards the end was because Blok deliberately hides a critical piece of information in a ta-da moment that actually just really irritated me.  More disappointing is that the antagonist is so superficially drawn that their motives made little sense and some of their actions to try and throw police off the track were really just laughably stupid.

Ultimately, there was just a lack of tension or credible psychological motivation in this book and I have to say that on the basis of this, I wouldn’t rush to read Blok’s next book as I don’t think this is for me.

UNDER THE ICE was released in the United Kingdom on 1st November 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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