FANTASTIC REVIEW OF "A BREATH AFTER DROWNING" IN THE CRIME REVIEW

FANTASTIC REVIEW OF "A BREATH AFTER DROWNING" IN THE CRIME REVIEW

A BREATH AFTER DROWNING is a stand-alone novel by accomplished writer Alice Blanchard. The novel follows Dr. Kate Wolfe as everything she thought she knew about her family and her sister’s murder gets turned upside down.

I won’t give away any more plot details, as this novel is far too well-constructed to spoil. However, Blanchard does a fantastic job of creating enough twists, turns, red herrings and ambiguous clues that this novel will keep you guessing right until the killer is revealed. Like other great novels, however, you believe the entire time that you know who it is (but you keep being proven wrong)!

Part of that effect comes from the superb pacing of the story. Subtly, Blanchard ratchets up the tension in tiny increments, from an exquisite slow burn that fills you with dread, to a furiously fast pace that rivals that of action thrillers. However the shift is so gradual that you don’t notice it happening until you are frantically turning pages at the end! Blanchard has done a masterful job handling this aspect of the novel.

She has also written an incredibly strong and nuanced protagonist in Dr. Kate Wolfe. While this novel is not particularly character-focused, Blanchard has captured both the strength of Dr. Wolfe and her vulnerability. This makes her a particularly appealing, human character to follow on her journey into the secrets of her past.

A BREATH AFTER DROWNING goes from strength to strength and is well worth a read if you are a fan of well-constructed, beautifully paced psychological thrillers!

SYNOPSIS:

Sixteen years ago, child psychologist Kate Wolfe’s young sister Savannah was brutally murdered. Forced to live with the guilt of how her own selfishness put Savannah in harm’s way, Kate was at least comforted by the knowledge that the man responsible was on death row. But when she meets a retired detective who is certain that Kate’s sister was only one of many victims of a serial killer, Kate must decide whether she can face the possibility that Savannah’s murderer walks free. As she unearths disturbing family secrets in her search for the truth, she becomes sure that she has uncovered the depraved mind responsible for so much death. But as she hunts for a killer, a killer is hunting her…

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“I would venture to guess that Anonymous, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” — Virginia Woolf

BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS

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BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS

In the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” the Wicked Witch of the West has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams—she has a castle and everything. She even has her own damned horde of flying monkeys. She holds dominion over her dark empire.

As viewed through the lens of 1930s male-dominated Hollywood, the Wicked Witch of the West—played with scene-stealing panache by Margaret Hamilton—is pure green-skinned evil. She brandishes a broomstick like a broadsword, and the thing she cherishes above all else is her “beautiful wickedness”—in other words, her ambition, verve and drive.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the rainbow, Dorothy longs for a world where she can express herself more freely than the black-and-white society she’s trapped in, where men can succeed and women cannot.

Dorothy is plagued by self-doubt. All roads in her small Kansas town lead nowhere. Her last name is Gale, but she’s far from gale force. Instead, she sings songs about soaring beyond the clouds like the birds do. She wants to break free but doesn’t know how.

Back in the 1930s, women weren’t supposed to want freedom. They were supposed to stay at home, rear their children and cook things like smothered cabbage and mashed potato cakes. Women who wanted more than that were considered heretics or worse—they were wicked.

So, what happens when Dorothy’s dreams collide with the ambitions of the Wicked Witch of the West?

First, her house lands on the witch’s twisted sister from East Oz, killing her instantly. Then Dorothy gets the ruby slippers. But these aren’t any ordinary shoes. C’mon, look at these things—they come with their own lightning.

However, Dorothy didn’t choose these shoes. Glinda, the supposedly Good Witch, forced them on her, which immediately put a target on our hero’s back. And from that point on, “The Wizard of Oz,” is about two women fighting over a pair of shoes.

Think about that a second.

But more importantly, Dorothy finally finds a road that leads somewhere. Eventually, through a combination of luck, innocence, hard work and friendship, Dorothy outwits the Wicked Witch, who melts upon contact with water (one presumes she never bathed) and bemoans the destruction of her “beautiful wickedness.”

Dorothy is hailed a hero in the Land of Oz. Ding dong, the witch is dead!

But it’s a hollow victory. Because when Dorothy taps her heels together, as instructed, she doesn’t wish for “girl power.” She doesn’t want rainbows anymore. Instead she asks to return to her colorless world, where one assumes she won’t go looking for liberation, equality or self-fulfillment.

So what’s the lesson here? The lion found his courage. The scarecrow found his heart. The tin man found his nerve. The Wicked Witch found her doom, and Dorothy found out that there’s no place like the kitchen.

Things have changed dramatically since 1939. We don’t need glittering shoes to find our way home. We don’t need good witches and bad witches. We don’t need magic wands. The curtain has fallen, and we can see the small man behind the smoke and mirrors.

We’ve found our courage. We’ve found our heart. We’ve found our nerve. We’ve found our beautiful wickedness.

Bio: Alice Blanchard’s new psychological thriller A Breath After Drowning (Titan Books) is out now.

AN EXCERPT FROM “LIFE SENTENCES” BY ALICE BLANCHARD

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“Anna and I used to cheat in Sunday School,” Daisy confessed all of a sudden. “Did you know that, Mom?”

Lily frowned. “No.”

“We never cheated in regular school or anywhere else. At least I didn’t. I can’t speak for Anna. But we cheated in Sunday School.”

“Whatever for?”

“Out of spite, I think. We couldn’t stand our teacher, Mrs. Galina. She was so dementedly happy all the time, so sickeningly Up-With-People, you know? My attitude was that she didn’t deserve our respect.”

“I don’t pretend to understand you girls.” Lily tipped her face skyward and blinked as eddying, dizzying snowflakes caught on her eyelashes. She looked like a child with her face held like that.

“I feel bad about it now,” Daisy said.

“You don’t sound like you feel bad.”

“I bumped into her one day after Anna was hospitalized for the first time. I was feeling pretty glum, and when I saw Mrs. Galina coming... I gave her such a dirty look. I wanted her to know how much I hated her. And do you know what she did?”

Lily shook her head.

“She smiled at me. She said hello. She was genuinely friendly. It shocked me. It was as if she could see right through me. She could see how miserable I was, and she didn’t care whether I hated her guts or not. She was going to like me anyway, in spite of myself.”