I’m putting this first because there is a ginormous spoiler in the blurb. It’s at the end of the post. If you don’t want to know in significant part where the story is headed before you start reading, skip that part.
A very brief synopsis, so as not to give anything away: Beth and Niall live in Dorset. A decision is made that they’ll go on holiday, so they do a house swap. They’re going to the Italian coast, and the family that lives there will come stay in their cottage in Dorset. (That would squick me right out, having people stay in my house as if it’s theirs, but that’s another topic.) Beth hopes for a lovely holiday where she and Niall can work through this rough patch and get their marriage back on track. But alas, things do not go as she’d hoped. Stuff gets weird, bad things happen, and it isn’t looking like there will be a happily ever after here.
Now. My thoughts.
Not one of the main characters is truly likable. Beth, bless her heart, was such a doormat that I wasn’t sure whether to hug her or shake her. She takes whatever crap Niall wants to throw her way with minimal complaint. Beth had the unmitigated gall not to come running when Niall said to come NOW? Demerit. Beth drank too much? Black mark for her. The holiday isn’t perfect? Well, Beth planned it, so whatever is wrong is clearly her fault. And Niall throws a lot of crap her way. He is an abusive cretin of a man. He snipes at Beth for not devoting the entirety of her attention to family togetherness when it suits him, but he’s constantly bailing on family to go off and “work.” Every word out of his mouth seems crafted to cause Beth the maximum amount of mental anguish. I wanted to punch him.
Amber and Renzo aren’t much better. Amber is just a straight-up, stone-cold heifer. (I mean, she told Beth they’d leave their car at the airport for them, and then got a kick out of Beth’s frantic texts saying they couldn’t find it and worrying that it had been stolen. She knew good and well she didn’t leave the car at the airport, and it wasn’t a mixup or a slip. And that’s on the tame end of things Amber does.) She has not a nice bone in her body, and it seemed like Renzo deserved so much better than her. He puts her up on a pedestal and treats her like a princess. But then he turns out not to be worth a darn, either. Although his offenses, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t nearly as egregious as Amber’s. Still, maybe they did deserve each other.
And some of the plot really stretched the bounds of believability for me. If I’ve swapped houses for a vacation, there’s a break-in at my vacation house, and then two dudes who may or may not be Mafia come looking for the house’s owners? I am outta there like a flash. Gaslighting, abusive husband or no, my butt would be on a plane back to England. He could come or not, as he wished.
But this is a quick, tense, compelling read. I read it in two sittings, and it would have been one if I hadn’t had to get up early for work. Boland’s writing style pulls you into the story, whether the characters are pleasant or not. And the tension builds as the story goes. If you read the blurb, you know what’s coming at some point. But you don’t know when or how.
The epilogues at the end (yes, there are several) were a nice finishing touch. We learned something interesting about some folks, including the one really redeeming character in the book, Luciana. I think her epilogue made me like her even a little bit better.
So while the story gave me several reasons to want to scream and throw things, it was still a good read. Highly recommended for beach reading, as you can read it in one sitting if there aren’t any distractions. This was my first book of Boland’s to read, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.
Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy from Bookouture and NetGalley. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.
About the author:
Shalini lives in Dorset, England with her husband, two children and Jess, their cheeky terrier cross. Before kids, she was signed to Universal Music Publishing as a singer songwriter, but now she spends her days writing suspense thrillers (in between school runs and hanging out endless baskets of laundry).
Book Description (spoiler, read at your own peril):
Two families. One house swap. A vacation to die for.
The white-washed Italian villa is perfect. I thought it might feel odd, living in a stranger’s house for the summer, but as my husband and children swim in the infinity pool, I start to relax. And then, in the back of a wardrobe, I find a photograph that shatters everything…
Sparkling green eyes, square jaw, lopsided smile. A young man with his arm around a beautiful woman. The picture is old and faded but I’d recognise him anywhere. The man is my husband.
But we’ve never met the family we’ve swapped homes with and my husband swears it isn’t him in the photo. He’s lying. We argue on the balcony with the sun setting behind us and I storm out.
When I finally calm down enough to go back to the villa to confront him, I find him sprawled across the veranda… dead.
Why would someone kill my husband? Am I in danger? And how well did I really know the man I married?