TITLE: DEAD LETTERS
AUTHOR: Caite Dolan-Leach
PUBLISHED BY: Corvus
PUBLICATION DATE: 4th May 2017
GENRE: Fiction, Suspense/Thriller
Dead Letters is the debut novel of, writer and literary translator, Caite Dolan-Leach. Although now living and working in Paris; she grew up around Finger Lakes, New York’s largest wine producing region, which probably explains why both areas are described in great detail and so vividly.
What’s the story?
We meet Ava, midflight from Paris to New York, her first trip ‘home’ to the family vineyard in two years. It’s a trip she’s only making because her mother (who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s) emailed with news that Ava’s twin sister is presumed dead after a fire broke out in a barn on the property.
We know that Ava fled to Paris to escape both her discordant family life and a significant act of betrayal by her sister. The family business is failing, their absent father had distanced himself from them, and they were finding it increasingly difficult to cope with their mother’s illness.
Ava likes to think of herself as the sensible twin, whilst Zelda was the wild one; but as she starts receiving emails, notes and letters purporting to be from the presumed dead Zelda; Ava too starts to lose control.
Whilst caring for her mother, attempting to mend relationships with her father & paternal grandmother and trying to come to terms with the original betrayal; she finds herself in the midst of a strange alphabetical scavenger hunt, spiralling all the way from Ava to Zelda. Convinced that Zelda is still alive and in hiding, Ava and her ex-boyfriend (& Zelda’s… remember that betrayal!?) try to uncover the truth. Believing Zeld has manipulated those around her to play along with her devious scheme, Ava gets drawn further and further into what she sees as a game her sister is determined to win.
Unsure of what to believe, and drinking heavily, Ava’s behaviour becomes erratic; and she starts wearing Zelda’s more Bohemian clothes. She gradually uncovers more truths than she is comfortable with and as the alphabet progresses, discovers more about herself, her sister and their wider family.
What I thought
Prior to receiving a physical copy of this book, I had the opportunity to read a digital download of the first few chapters; isn’t it interesting how some books so often turn out entirely different from how you originally envision they are going to? My original thoughts, two chapters in, were:
I really enjoyed reading the first few chapters. I particularly liked the author’s descriptive style of writing. The scattering of emails throughout the prose adds detail. The cover hints at mysteries to be unearthed.
The title ‘ Dead Letters ‘ intrigues me as the postal service uses this term for undeliverable damaged or lost mail. It has left me wondering if there will be missing correspondence…. Perhaps Ava is correct in her assumption that her twin sister Zelda, already famous for her erratic and eccentric behaviour, had faked her death; but the loss of some important piece of mail puts her in danger.
I am eager to find out what the betrayal was (it has been hinted at previous infidelity, did Zelda ‘steal’ Ava’s boyfriend; or date someone she knew her sister liked) and to discover more about the dynamics of this discordant family.
So far I think i agree with Ava’s belief that Zelda wasn’t dead, but don’t think she will still be alive by the end of the book (or indeed, even at the present time in the tale!)
This First Look has left me wanting to read more.
However, now that I have finished reading, I think differently. The story that I imagined was going to be a suspense-filled thriller full of twists turned out to be more of a family saga. There was a lot of character development and A LOT of wine. Gallons of the stuff. At first the wine descriptions and tasting notes were quite fun (& thirst-inducing!) but whilst the vast quantities of alcohol drunk by the Antipova family are a necessary plot point, the continual stream of booze got a bit wearing after a while.
Ultimately, this book wasn’t what i thought it was, however i still enjoyed it; in particular the idea of the alphabetical scavenger hunt and the descriptive prose used by the author. I did not like the main characters, I found them unlikeable on the whole!
I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars; the high concept intrigued me, but ultimately didn’t deliver it to me in a way i personally found enjoyable.
Disclosure: A free ARC was provided by the publisher via ReadersFirst in exchange for an honest review.