Friday, 9 August 2013

Review: Cruel Summer by James Dawson

Cruel Summer by James Dawson
Released: 1st August 2013
Publisher: Indigo
Reason for reading: Loved Hollow Pike and it sounded awesome 

Goodreads synopsis:

A year after Janey’s suicide, her friends reunite at a remote Spanish villa, desperate to put the past behind them. However, an unwelcome guest arrives claiming to have evidence that Janey was murdered. When she is found floating in the pool, it becomes clear one of them is a killer. Only one thing is for certain, surviving this holiday is going to be murder…

A compelling and psychological thriller - with a dash of romance

My thoughts:

Sometimes you go into a book thinking it's gonna be pretty good and it exceeds your expectations to the point you are almost stupefied. This is exactly what happened with Cruel Summer. I mean this in a good way. I loved Hollow Pike and from that I knew that James was very good at creating real, relatable, diverse characters, building suspense and mystery and telling a chilling tale. But Hollow Pike could not prepare me for the masterpiece that is Cruel Summer.

The whole story is so carefully engineered in a way you simply can't fully appreciate until you've turned the last page. It is a masterclass in foreshadowing and characterisation. It has so many twists and turns that I was totally disorientated. Just when you think you have one thing figured out, you get hit over the head with something else (you'll appreciate that when you read the book). 

I went to James' launch for Cruel Summer and he asked who I thought had committed the murder. I confessed that I had narrowed it down to two suspects and James commented that it the 'why' was more interesting than the 'who'. This is bang on. Not only for this book, but for this genre. When you read/watch a lot of crime-y things you get very good at figuring out the 'who'. It's not (usually) to do with stunning detective work on your part but more down to some un-quantifiable algorithm of experience, hunches and clues. But the 'why' is the  fascinating part and it's the 'make or break' part as well. If the 'why' is flimsy, clunky, or clearly created at the last minute when the author realised that the villian actually needed a motive, the whole thing falls down. This was not the case in Cruel Summer. I never guessed the 'whys' (and there were a couple) and they were seamlessly, subtly, and oh so perfectly blended into the plot that I didn't pick up on a lot of the clues that were given. 

Not only was the plot a total knock-out, but the characters were pretty awesome too. From Ryan and Alisha, who narrated, to the rest of the 'cast'. Their personalities, issues, relationships were laid out with almost Rowling-esque care, and, as usual, James made sure that no one was excluded. Ryan's narrative style, treating the adventure as though it were a TV show, was inspired and original. And hilarious. A points it was like watching a film (or a TV show), the scenes were that well described. Ryan and Alisha were funny, sassy and likeable; a winning combination. 

TL;DR: Cruel Summer is a perfect, sangria-like mixture of murder mystery, thriller, horror and contemporary. While the murder mystery element might be the red wine (fitting) it is totally enhanced by the undertones of everything else. A fascinating, beautifully woven story that left me amazed, thrilled, amused and slightly horrified. A perfect blend. 


  1. Oh man. Way to sell a book that I probably would have had zero interest in reading beforehand, Cait. Seriously. This sounds like such a well-plotted read! I don't read a lot of mysteries/thrillers but I can imagine that having strong characters and a compelling plot would be pretty high up on the list of desirables. I'm so glad that this exceeded your expectations and I will definitely give it a shot if I can! Thanks for the great review, Cait! :)

    Also: love the TL;DR lol.

  2. Okaaaaaaaaaay I will read this. I don't know why I've been reluctant - I guess I'm always a bit scared to read books with a lot of hype surrounding them. But I do like murder mysteries and the characters do sound pretty awesome. Great review!

  3. I'm pretty good at figuring out the who too (and I did here) but not the why. I had another (pretty lame now that I think of it!) reason altogether. I definitely want to read more books like this one!

  4. You have just got me way excited to finish reading this book! Though I'm halfway through and I'm still not sure about the who yet... This is such a great review though and I totally love the bit about it being like a Sangria ;)

  5. "James commented that the 'why' was more interesting than the 'who'" I totally agree! I had an inkling as to the who but the why completely took me by surprise! I really loved this one, it's definitely a favourite of mine from this summer and I now *really* need to read Hollow Pike!

  6. I've never read Hollow Pike or anything by this author, and haven't read many crime novels either, but I do love the sound of this. My favorite novels are the ones with real, diverse characters - excellent characterization - and the ones with the question of the 'why.' Figuring out character motivations is a lot of fun, and helps make the characters feel more complex. Also, I rarely ever find myself surprised with regard to mysteries unless they're set in a fantasy world, so having characters who can keep me compelled is a huge plus. Glad you enjoyed this one :). Sangrias are indeed delicious.

  7. Now I so cannot wait to read this! I really hate it when, at the end of a murder mystery, the whole thing falls apart because the motive is unbelievable or just poorly written, so glad to hear that that isn't the case here (not that I was expecting it to be!). Really great review, Cait! :)


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