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Review: Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel

on June 4, 2015

Charlie Presumed DeadCharlie, Presumed Dead
Anne Heltzel
Nero Books
2015, 262p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

American student Aubrey is in Paris to attend the funeral of her boyfriend Charlie Price, believed dead after a horrible accident. Before the service, Aubrey notices another woman, the same age as her, watching. When the woman gets up to speak, Aubrey is stunned to discover that this woman, Lena, is Charlie’s girlfriend and has been for three years. Aubrey has been with Charlie a year and although she didn’t suspect him of this, suddenly several weird things begin to make sense.

Charlie was leading a double life and it seemed that he was almost entirely two different people with differing personalities, likes and dislikes, depending on who he was with. Lena begins to suspect that Charlie isn’t dead at all and this is all just part of his game. She convinces Aubrey to come with her to London, to investigate Charlie’s hangouts when in that city and although Aubrey, a conservative girl with worried parents back in America, feels she should be heading home, she allows Lena to convince her to hop around the world following a few vague clues, hoping to find Charlie at the other end.

But both girls are keeping secrets of their own and neither can really trust the other. Jealousy and suspicion at their roles in Charlie’s life as well as the strangeness of the situation makes for a potent mix. And if it turns out that Charlie is still alive, as Lena suspects, what is his motivation for doing all of this?

Charlie, Presumed Dead has all the makings of a good thriller from reading the blurb. Ignoring the fact that everyone in it is still a teenager and able to flit around the world at will, thanks to a few healthy trust funds, that is. But somehow the execution falls flat mostly because I think that for a thriller, an awful lot doesn’t happen in this book. It’s not an overly long book but the build up is incredibly slow and one paced and even the travelling to different countries doesn’t serve to build the suspense as the girls close in on the answers.

The book starts off promisingly enough, when Aubrey is in Paris for Charlie’s funeral. She’s not met his parents and only a few friends so she’s alone. When Lena gets up to speak and Aubrey realises that this is a girlfriend of Charlie’s that pre-dates her, one that his parents know, one that has the right to get up and speak at his funeral, she’s stunned. She can’t get out of there quick enough and Lena is savvy enough to guess why, following Aubrey to demand the truth from her. The girls are quick to snipe, torn between grief, anger and in Aubrey’s case, something else. But this story becomes so much bogged down in minor details that the big picture seems like it’s almost forgotten at times.

Firstly, it’s ridiculously easy for Lena to convince Aubrey to go to London with her, instead of Aubrey going straight back home to America as she’s supposed to. Aubrey isn’t wealthy, I think she was in Paris for the funeral alone because her parents couldn’t afford to go with her. She doesn’t have much money so luckily it’s an easy trip on the train to England but from there it’s off to India and then Thailand as they chase clues and leads. Lena is wealthy with money to get them both around the world and into hotels but even she starts to wear thin the patience of her wealthy parents far later than is probable. It’s easy to forget whilst reading that both of them are still very young and to be honest I’m a little surprised that neither of them thought if they are correct and Charlie is alive and has staged this dramatic fake death, shouldn’t they be a little concerned as to the why and if it may pose a danger to them? You don’t fake your own death for fun, he was never going to jump out from behind a pot plant and go “Surprise! I thought you two would hit it off if you ignored the fact that I was playing both of you”. It seems they give little thought to what Charlie’s motivations could be, and if they might actually be sinister. I’m a chicken, so even if I’d been convinced to go to London, the way in which things played out in India would’ve meant that I was on the first flight back home. But nope, Aubrey continues being dragged around the world by Lena, to far flung places without really stopping to think about why Charlie might be in that particular place or why he is doing this. Given the secret Aubrey is hiding, I know why she wants to know the truth but I’m not sure what they thought the endgame was. Busting him in some bar somewhere or on some beach, they get their answers, Aubrey gets the journal she wants so badly and then everyone has a good laugh and goes home?

This one had a promising start but unfortunately it grew to feel like I was bogged down with too much detail about Lena and Aubrey’s travelling – what they were eating and drinking, their hotel room, etc. The trust between them was a weird thing, established far too quickly and then continued to see-saw back and forth in a way that became annoying as they became irrationally angry at each other for both keeping secrets. It was a pity than I feel like when the story really started to get good, like it could go somewhere and give the author a chance to explore some really interesting themes (mental illness, manipulation, incarceration in a foreign country etc) the book was over. I didn’t find the ending satisfying, in fact it was frustrating bordering on annoying. It felt like the ending was supposed to provoke a shocking reaction and perhaps extreme sympathy but I found that I was unable to muster either unfortunately.

6/10

Book #101 of 2015

 

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One response to “Review: Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel

  1. Deborah says:

    This is on my TBR pile, so I’m hoping to get to it in the next week or so… Have def heard mixed things about it.

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