Title: Who Did You Tell?
Author: Lesley Kara
Publisher: Ballantine Books – Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: June 16, 2020
Genre: Mystery and Thriller, Women’s Fiction
Summary: Astrid is back to living with her mum in the small town of Flinstead, somewhere in the UK. An alcoholic, she’s finally promised to put the drink behind her and attend AA meetings, especially since her boyfriend recently committed suicide after she got him back into drinking. At one such meeting, she meets Rosie, who is overly eager to make Astrid into her pet project, and Helen, who seems sad and lonely but seems to get Astrid more than Rosie does. Everything starts to look up for her. She’s working to move past alcoholism, has a lovely new man she’s falling for, and has been commissioned for a major art project. But a girl in a gray puffer jacket keeps popping up and threatening notes start appearing. And someone who knows all about Astrid’s sordid past, one she doesn’t remember because of frequent black outs, is stalking her.
Honestly, I don’t remember why I wanted to read this one, but I had been looking to read more mysteries and thrillers this year. I also really liked the idea of secrets coming back to bite you. This wasn’t quite the thriller I had expected, but it was still a quick read, meaning it had me flying through the pages just to find out exactly who to trust!
The Characters: Misleading
Since the story is told in first person, we really only get to know Astrid since she’s the one telling the story. Everyone else is told through her eyes and with her lens coloring their characterization. It was fascinating to see how she saw them and how she thought of them as well as how they reacted to her. It was interesting to see her mum’s concern for her even when Astrid just wanted to brush her off, Rosie’s intense focus on her that came off as creepy, and Helen’s sympathies as she was also going through a difficult time.
I think I enjoyed reading about how Astrid viewed the people around her more than I did getting to know Astrid. Honestly, she didn’t seem too interesting to me. I understood she was going through a difficult time recovering from her addiction, so of course much of her internal life was going to focus on that, but it also felt a bit much. She felt entirely too fragile no matter how strong she tried to appear to be, and far too trusting. It turned out to be handy for the story, but it didn’t leave me with an overly positive view of her.
What I did find fascinating were the other characters. Since we only get them from how Astrid sees them, getting to know them was a bit misleading. The only depth to them was what she gave to them, so it colors the way the reader sees them. It’s also easy, though, to see through some of them as Astrid gets to know them better, and often infuriating when Astrid fails to see what I see. It did, though, add a layer of tension and suspense, especially towards the end when it really became thrilling.
The Setting: A Quiet, Seaside Town
I adore mysteries that are set in places that seem a little sinister, a little stark. The place in real life could be perfectly charming and bright and sunny, but something about it being gray and foreboding in a mystery and thriller just makes it so magical. Or terrifying.
Most of this book takes place in the little seaside town of Flinstead. It seems quite charming when the reader is first introduced to it, a lovely place to visit in the summer. The sea is right there and there are plenty of quaint little shops.
As the story moved along, it took on a sinister edge. There’s the fog rolling in, the rain coming down. Overall, there was a lovely atmosphere that was just perfect for a mystery and thriller. It all felt a little gray in my head, but in a good way. I like that color feeling when I read a psychological thriller. I really liked that we got to see it from Astrid’s perspective and that it seemed to grow darker and scarier as the story progressed.
This setting was simply perfect for the story. A quiet seaside down with the fog and the rain. It added a dark layer. But there were also moments of bright sunshine and warm weather. It felt a little crazy that the weather changed so quickly, but I suppose that happens quite a bit in the UK. Or so I’ve read. Anyways, this was a charming, terrifying place, but I really liked how everyone knew everyone and everyone’s business. I really felt like I was walking along with Astrid.
The Plot: Women’s Fiction Plus a Thrilling Mystery
This book is listed as being both a Mystery and Thriller and as Women’s Fiction. I thought it was a little odd, but, while reading, I could definitely see how it goes both ways. The one thing that frustrated me was that they went together, but didn’t necessarily mesh well together.
Reading most of this book made me think I was reading Women’s Fiction. You have a broken women looking to get a new lease on life, or to escape her secrets and heavy past. There’s the love interest who just sweeps her away, but it’s mostly about her and how she is learning to live life differently. In this case, we have Astrid, an alcoholic trying hard to recover and who now lives back with her mum. She’s trying to get back on her feet and stumbles into the handsome Josh. Their relationship escalates quickly, but most of the story is focused on Astrid’s struggles with alcohol and her developing friendship with Helen, also an alcoholic.
Woven throughout this Women’s Fiction book is some tension and a bit of mystery. It’s mostly psychological as Astrid keeps getting the feeling she’s being watched and followed. Then strange things start to occur, threatening both her and her mum. But most of it felt like it was all in her head and not terribly frightening. As a recovering alcoholic who admits to having had multiple black outs, it made it easy for me as a reader to dismiss much of her paranoia as being the effects of recovery and uncertainty about her past. And then the thrilling part really started to pick up during the last 15% of the book. The last 15%. I had almost forgotten this was also supposed to be a Mystery and Thriller. Well, that last 15% had thriller written all over it! I couldn’t read through those pages fast enough.
There’s a heavy theme of alcoholism in this book. It seemed that if a character wasn’t a recovering alcoholic, they had strong feelings about it. So much of the story was taken up with Astrid’s thoughts and longing for alcohol. Sometimes I felt like I had lost sight of the story because there were chunks of Astrid fantasizing about alcohol or describing what it felt like to be faced with it. I know that struggle is real and difficult, but it did feel like half of the book was just talking about it.
All in all, this book actually moved at a really good pace. I liked the slips and slides Astrid made, as well as the progress she could be proud of. It never felt like it happened by magic and, clearly, she still has a lot of work in front of her by the end of the book. I also felt her and Josh’s relationship moved a bit too fast, but it felt like a fun summer romance with the potential of being something more, and I really loved how the book ended in that aspect. Resolving the mystery part felt a little rushed as it seemed to be mostly confined to the last quarter of the book, but I think it also made it more thrilling as there were fewer pages to confine it to.
Overall: An Interesting Mix
Overall, I found this to be an interesting mix of Women’s Fiction and Mystery and Thriller. I don’t feel it meshed as well as it could have. But I did appreciate that the story felt like it was unfolding mostly organically. At least, it was driven by a woman who wasn’t completely stable, which made it interesting. The characters weren’t as interesting as I would have liked, but I did enjoy the suspense they added to the story. I did love the setting. It felt charming and sinister at the same time.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Ballantine Books, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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