Sunday, November 22, 2015

Book Review: "Try Not to Breathe" by Holly Seddon

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine for making it available!

Here's a question: does anyone else, when they read mysteries, find themselves suspecting everyone, and whenever a new character is introduced you try to determine whether that person is the culprit? I don't believe I'm alone in that behavior, but it's difficult to disengage the "detective" part of my brain!

Holly Seddon's tense debut novel, Try Not to Breathe definitely had me entertaining lots of possibilities in my mind. When Amy Stevenson was 15 years old, she disappeared from home. While the police tried to tell her parents she ran away, they knew that wasn't something Amy would do. And when she was found shortly thereafter, her body severely beaten, no one could figure out what happened and who assaulted her—and Amy, who was in a persistent vegetative state, couldn't tell.

Fifteen years later, Alex Dale, a reporter whose career and personal life had both seen better days, was researching a story on advances being made by a local neurologist, who boasted of some success "communicating" with some patients in a persistent vegetative state. When Alex comes upon Amy in the hospital, she remembers the case that captivated the area for some time, and the turmoil it brought to many whose lives were turned upside down.

Alex is determined to stand up for Amy, to try and find out the truth once and for all. Solving a cold case is never easy, but Alex has an extra burden as she is a barely functioning alcoholic whose life, career, and health have been destroyed by her addiction. But the more Alex digs into the case, interviewing those who were closest to Amy, she knows that there are answers amid the mystery, and it is up to her to try and bring some closure for Amy's sake, while Amy remains conscious but mostly unaware of where she is and what has transpired in her life since the assault. Mostly being the operative word...

I thought this was a really interesting concept for a book, and enjoyed the way Seddon teased out the story despite my best efforts to figure it all out before she was ready to divulge details. Alex's character in particular was really fascinating, and I felt Seddon did a terrific job giving voice to Alex's alcoholic existence and her continued decline despite the regrets she carried with her. While not all of the characters were as fleshed out as I would have liked, Alex drives the story, and she is so appealing (while being so flawed) that I really was invested in her quest. The tension level rises and rises as the plot moves forward, and for the most part, I really liked the direction Seddon took the story in.

For a debut novel, this is a pretty self-assured book. So many mysteries fail as they try too hard; Try Not to Breathe will captivate fans of the genre.

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