All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

on June 15, 2017

Dead Letters
Caite Dolan-Leach
Corvus (Atlantic Books)
2017, 332p
Copy courtesy Allen & Unwin

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Ava doesn’t believe it when the email arrives to say that her twin sister is dead. It’s not grief or denial that causes her scepticism – it just feels too perfect to be anything other than Zelda’s usual manipulative scheming. And Ava knows her twin.

Two years after she left, vowing never to speak to Zelda again after the ultimate betrayal, Ava must return home to retrace her errant sister’s last steps. She soon finds notes that lead her on a twisted scavenger-hunt of her twin’s making.

Letter by letter, Ava unearths clues to her sister’s disappearance: and unveils harrowing truths of her own. A is for Ava, and Z is for Zelda, but deciphering the letters in-between is not so simple…

This book was…..messed up.

Two years ago Ava fled her home, the family vineyard in the Fingers Lakes region for France and postgraduate study. Her twin, Zelda, had betrayed her, as had someone else. Their family was falling apart – their father gone, their mother a victim of disease that had ravaged her body and mind. Ava couldn’t escape fast enough and she stays away for two years, until she receives the email that her sister and twin is dead. She comes home immediately but she doesn’t believe it to be true. This is exactly the sort of crazy scheme Zelda might do in order to get what she wants. Ava soon finds herself seeking clues, all the letters of the alphabet, from A to Z. And when she gets to the end, she will have the truth.

Ava is even by her own admission (and that of several other characters) a difficult character. She’s somewhat standoffish, quite cold, not affectionate or loving. To be honest when you look at her upbringing and her life it’s not really hard to see why she might be like that. Her mother is a vicious narcissist, perhaps trapped by her own demons and her father traded in one family for several others years ago.

The family own a struggling (very struggling, as Ava finds out) vineyard. The twins’ parents are extraordinarily heavy drinkers and the twins themselves have been steadily drinking since their teenage years. To be honest, the amount of alcohol consumed in this novel was a real struggle for me…..I don’t come from a family that drinks much and I left behind the teen years of drinking long ago. I can take it or leave it now but the bottles religiously consumed day after day became quite exhausting. Life was a neverending circle of  drinking until sick or passing out and getting up the next day and doing it all over again. No wonder everyone was basically a wreck. I’m not sure they’d had a sober thought for years.

The mystery is decent – if Zelda isn’t dead, why has she faked her death and left this elaborate scheme for her sister? And if she is actually dead…why has she left this elaborate scheme for her sister? It’s clear that Ava and Zelda have a lot of unresolved issues from what happened two years ago. Zelda is sorry, but in the way that careless people are sorry. Like she’s saying it because she thinks that’s what she needs to say in order to get Ava to forgive her and restore the status quo. Because we only ever see Zelda through Ava’s eyes and through some letters she writes, most of which revolve around this game, it was difficult to get a true handle on her personality but what I did know made it hard to sympathise with her throughout most of the book. I don’t think it was really until nearly the end of the book that I began to understand Zelda a little. Began to understand them both as a unit.

I enjoyed parts of this – I liked Ava’s analytical mind and the way in which she skipped from clue to clue. The game however, seemed to rely on a lot of things being done at the right times, etc in order to work and at times it was a bit difficult to believe that things would go so smoothly, despite how well the twins knew each other. I did find the alcohol distracting though, the entire story revolves around it and it got a bit tedious if I’m honest. I understand that centering the story around a vineyard means grog is going to be a big part of it. But it was more than that. It was an obsession with pretty much everyone in the book a raging alcoholic, including some being self-aware about it but with kind of a philosophical shrug and a “meh what can you do” type thing. Maybe a lot of the problems in this novel might’ve been reduced greatly if everyone had just sobered the heck up for a bit.

It kept me interested, I will say that. I did greatly want to find out what had happened to Zelda, if she was really dead or if like Ava believed, she had staged this whole thing as some sort of elaborate plot. However there were things that I didn’t enjoy and things that I felt perhaps went a bit too far for plausible believability. It’s certainly an interesting debut though and I did enjoy quite a lot of the writing so I would definitely read something by this author again in the future.


Book #105 of 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: