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Wednesday 14 January 2015

‘Above’ by Isla Morley

Published by Two Roads,
8 May 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-444-79700-8

Crime and thrillers are easily the most marketable fiction genre, so publishers can’t be blamed for trying to shoehorn the occasional unlikely candidate into that slot. Above is labelled psychological thriller, but though there are a few edge-of-the-seat moments and a murder or two, it has far more in common with Margaret Atwood and Emma Donoghue than, say, Sophie Hannah.

At the start, the central premise appears simple. Sixteen-year-old Blythe Hallowell has been abducted and imprisoned in a disused missile silo. Her kidnapper believes the end of civilization is approaching, and has equipped the silo for survival.

The first half of the book charts Blythe’s eighteen years of captivity: escape attempts, coping mechanisms, a surprise or two and not a few shocks. Eventually she does escape – and then things start to get really interesting.

There are very few lighter moments, and if there was humour I failed to detect it; the gloom is unrelenting until close to the end, and the fear factor is never far away. Nonetheless, it held my attention. It’s well written, chilling and atmospheric; the claustrophobic world Blythe and her abductor inhabit sent shivers down my spine. What’s more, Morley has the knack of keeping the reader guessing, releasing and withholding information with the skill of a veteran, even though it’s only her second novel. Her first was nominated for major awards, and this one may well fare similarly. 

One of Morley’s great strengths is an ability to create a physical world for the reader. Skin textures, nuances of colour, sensations, smells, sounds all jump off the page and help to build Blythe’s surroundings. She applies the same techniques to characters, and they too spring to life: an essential quality, since the most important thing an author can achieve is to make the reader care what happens to the characters, especially the chief protagonist.

I certainly wanted to know what would happen to Blythe. Would she escape? And when she did, what would she find? And when she found it... But that would be telling.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and fourth-generation South African mother. During the country's State of Emergency, she graduated from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth with a degree in English Literature.
By 1994 she was one of the youngest magazine editors in South Africa, but left career, country and kin when she married an American and moved to California. For more than a decade she pursued a career in non-profit work, focusing on the needs of women and children. She has lived in some of the most culturally diverse places of the world, including Johannesburg, London and Honolulu. Now in the Los Angeles area, she shares a home with her husband, daughter, two cats, a dog and a tortoise.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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