So, according to Amazon the full title is Valentina: A Hauntingly Intelligent Psychological Thriller. I really hope everything after the colon was added by the publisher as advertising and to help with search engine confusion and not actually what the author titled the book. If the author did add it… wow, someone’s got some pretty confident opinions of themselves.
It’s not a bad book, I enjoyed it and read it in about three days. The plot clips along and there isn’t a lot of fat to trim here, which I like. Towards the end it does falter a bit. I am starting to think one of the hardest things for anyone to do is write a solid, satisfying ending for a psychological thriller. It’s really difficult to build something up to such a high level of anticipation and set the stakes that high, then find a way to resolve it that doesn’t either feel completely ridiculous or like you’re just rushing through a checklist to tie all the loose ends together in under 150 pages. The author here almost makes it, but not quite. It doesn’t ruin the whole thing, and the way she plays with the narration helps prevent it from completely crashing and burning, but it wasn’t the most solid landing. Hence the three stars instead of four. This is a great travel read, basically.
Anyway, synopsis. Glaswegian Shona McGilvery and her Liverpool-born partner Mikey move up to a very remote village in the very north of Scotland for Mikey’s job. Shona has given up her job as a journalist with the main paper in Glasgow to be a stay-at-home mom to her and Mikey’s newborn, Fiona. As much as she loves the idyllic cottage outside of the village and being able to take care of Fiona she does have some reservations about being so remote, given that Mikey’s job is going to consist of spending two weeks a month on an offshore oil rig.
Just as Shona starts to reach the end of her tether due to the isolation (she’s had a hard time making friends with the mostly closed off local women) and demands of being essentially a single parent most of the time she meets Valentina at the day care center she has signed Fiona up at for a couple hours a week. Suddenly life seems like it is going to be OK; she has a wonderful, supportive best friend who is also a new mom, a hard working, loving partner, a perfect baby… what could go wrong? Then cracks start to show in Valentina’s exterior.
I really wish the author hadn’t made Shona a journalist. I just think I have far less patience for someone with that kind of job not picking up on the cards being put down. There are things that from right when we meet Valentina that make me know something ain’t right with that girl, I might not know what, but something ain’t right. I started getting really annoyed with Shona for not reacting to it too. I think if she had ANY other career, other than maybe private detective or something, it might not have bothered me as much. I think I get what the author was trying to do with that, but it didn’t work for me.
I do like the author’s use of language, she’s a good writer. I love the little bits of Scottish dialect peppered in, it isn’t so much that it feels contrived, it really just feels like the author knows how a woman raised in urban Scotland would talk and doesn’t dumb down slang or colloquialisms. She does a good job of creating a steady build to the intrigue and not tipping too much of her hand. I sorta figured it out by about halfway through, but not completely. Most revelations don’t seem to come from thin air, this is a mostly well thought out plot. I feel like the characters are real people, and most of the things they do fit what we know about them, with the previously mentioned exception of not knowing how on earth Shona was as accomplished a reporter as she theoretically was based on her actions here. Valentina also gets a little ridiculous at times, but the quirks play out in the end for the most part.
I don’t want to go much further as I don’t want to give anything away- that’s the hardest part about reviewing mysteries and thrillers. So I’ll end here.