I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon
Published by Ballantine Books on February 23rd 2016
Amazon, Barnes & Noble
For fans of Lianne Moriarty, Paula Hawkins, and Tana French, an arresting debut novel of psychological suspense: a young journalist struggles to keep the demons of her alcoholism at bay as she finds her purpose again in tackling the mystery of a shocking headline-making crime, still unsolved after fifteen years.
Amy Stevenson was the biggest news story of 1995. Only fifteen years old, Amy disappeared walking home from school one day and was found in a coma three days later. Her attacker was never identified and her angelic face was plastered across every paper and nightly news segment.
Fifteen years later, Amy lies in the hospital, surrounded by 90’s Britpop posters, forgotten by the world until reporter Alex Dale stumbles across her while researching a routine story on vegetative patients.
Remembering Amy’s story like it was yesterday, she feels compelled to solve the long-cold case.
The only problem is, Alex is just as lost as Amy—her alcoholism has cost her everything including her marriage and her professional reputation.
In the hopes that finding Amy’s attacker will be her own salvation as well, Alex embarks on a dangerous investigation, suspecting someone close to Amy.
Told in the present by an increasingly fragile Alex and in dream-like flashbacks by Amy as she floats in a fog of memories, dreams, and music from 1995, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer to a breathtaking conclusion.
Since this is a mystery, I’ll do my best to be suitably vague and non-spoilery.
This story is told in three different POVs. Alex Dale is a journalist, writing a piece on vegetative states, specifically a local doctor who specializes in them. Amy Stephenson is one of those patients, a thirty-year old woman who has been locked in a vegetative state since an attack when she was fifteen. We don’t know exactly how Jacob fits in when we first meet him, but we find out soon enough.
Alex is a full-blown alcoholic. She has schedules and rituals, and has just accepted this part of herself. She deals with it by setting rules. She puts her phone away so she won’t send emails or texts. She puts her wallet away so she can’t shop. She pairs each carefully measured glass of wine with an equally carefully measured tumbler of water to avoid dehydration. These parts were hard to read. Alex doing her grocery shopping and throwing a package of mattress protectors into her cart without even thinking about because she knew that she would urinate in her sleep was heartbreaking. She appears to be at rock bottom. Her alcoholism has cost her everything. That might have been the hardest part. It’s cost her everything, and she knows it, but she still can’t stop. This story she’s writing on vegetative patients is absolutely her last chance to get even a little bit of her life and reputation back and she knows it. She remembers enough of Amy’s story to make her interest plausible, though I wasn’t really sure her career as a journalist would have given her quite as much access to Amy’s medical information as it did.
They mystery itself was a little less exciting to me. The ‘whodunnit’ reveal wasn’t all that shocking, at least in a general sense. There were several red herrings introduced, but for the most part they weren’t viable candidates.
This was a debut novel, and while I really enjoyed it, there were a few times the author’s relative newness came through. There were a few occasions when we shifted to a different time while in the same person’s POV, and that wasn’t really clear. It was a little disconcerting. However, Holly Seddon clearly did a lot of research into both the vegetative states and alcoholism. She states in an author’s note that she took some liberties with Amy’s condition, which isn’t unusual. Books would be a lot more boring if authors weren’t able to take some liberties. Some of the characters weren’t as fleshed out as I’d have liked, (Jacob’s wife Fiona is a fairly one-note, shrill, nagging wife) but overall, I thought this was a solid debut. I look forward to reading more from Holly Seddon.