Cruel Summer by James Dawson
Genre: Murder Mystery
Published by: Indigo
2016, I’ve decided, is going to be the year of James Dawson. I don’t care how I get hold of his books, but I must read them all. Like, immediately. I don’t know how I haven’t picked something of his up before. Over the last year, I’ve become much more open to the genres of his first novels, and after the release of All of the Above, a coming of age (my fave) I feel the need to chart his writing genesis. My local library had his second book, Cruel Summer, and so, here are my thoughts!P L O T
A bunch of friends: Ben, Alisha, Ryan, Katie, Greg and Erin, all go to a villa in Spain for a nice holiday. Cute, right? They’ve left school and really wanted to reunite and catch up. Unfortunately, one of their friends is missing because she’s dead. Janey killed herself, though the accuracy of that statement is questionable, the previous year and a shadow of the loss hangs over everyone’s heads. But that’s not the only thing to worry about. When an unexpected guest, Roxanne, shows up with the claim that one of the gang murdered Janey and then ends up dead herself, the six are left to question if there really is a killer in their midst.
Told as if it were a TV show, with scenes instead of chapters, Cruel Summer is something a little different from anything else out there. The most interesting element of the story, I felt, was how aware of the genre the characters were. Because Ryan believed that life was one big TV drama, he knew all the stereotypes of horror shows and assigned a typical role to each of his friends, like ‘new girl’, ‘nerd’, ‘jock’, and ‘bad girl’. This was hilarious to read and so meta, but in the end, helped me to figure out who the murderer was before it was revealed.
Then again, I do watch an awful lot of Inspector Morse so I’m good at guessing who the killer is ridiculously fast.
C H A R A C T E R S
Ryan and Alisha are the characters given the most voice, and dominate the perspectives. Ryan was just a lovely human being, with a lot of insight into their situation and remained calm at all times. Even when he was scrubbing blood off the swimming pool tiles and could have been eaten by sharks. He’s gay, and I was very pleased that a protagonist, rather than a secondary character, flaunted this representation.
Alisha was set up to be this wild child, but there was a lot more to her than that. She was smart and probably the most abstracted from the inner web of lies and mischief. Lish and Ryan both had motives to kill Roxanne, but I didn’t think either of them had it in them to do the deed.
That’s the thing. Once you weeded out who you thought it couldn’t be, you were left with only one answer: the killer themselves.
I’m not going to ruin it, that would be mean. So, what if I wasn’t shocked? It’s incredibly hard to make an avid reader of murder mysteries gasp. But, I really enjoyed the cast of characters, the diversity and their age within such an adult situation. It was different to anything else in that sense.
V E R D I C T
James Dawson is a marvellous human being. I think I’m in love. There wasn’t a page I didn’t enjoy of Cruel Summer. It got to the point where my Dad wanted to do a Christmas quiz and I had to postpone it to finish the story. (You can’t start asking what ungulates are when the murderer is revealing their backstory!) I’m giving this 3.5 stars, and I can’t wait to continue my James Dawson journey.