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Friday 6 March 2015

‘Dying for Christmas’ by Tammy Cohen

Published by Black Swan,
20 November 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-784-16017-3 (PB)

Remember those warnings your mother used to issue about not getting into cars with strange men?  Even if he’s drop dead gorgeous, with charm like George Clooney on his best day, and it’s ‘only for one drink’. And especially not if it’s Christmas Eve. Dying for Christmas is about what happens if you ignore her.

Tammy Cohen’s fragile protagonist Jessica Gold makes exactly that mistake – and spends most of the book regretting it and paying the price. It’s not until her ordeal comes to an end and the book isn’t much more than half over that you realize that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye...

If I say any more I risk going into major spoiler mode, so that’s all you’re getting about the plot. Instead let me tell you about the characters and setting; both are plenty well done enough to make the book worth reading.

Jessica herself is the kind of young woman who has never been encouraged to value herself. Her brothers bully her, her parents practically ignore her, and she lives with Travis, who has turned ordinary into an art form. Jessica has a job in television which could be interesting, but in fact isn’t much more stimulating than doing the filing. All of which goes some way to explaining how she gets herself into such a tight spot; in her situation, anyone could be forgiven for going in search of a bit of excitement.

And then there’s Kim, the detective who heads up the search for Jessica when her family finally admit she’s missing. Kim is arguably the only sympathetic character in the book, but even she has her unenviable side. She is ambitious for promotion; her husband thinks she should put her job on hold and focus on family life. The job wins out, but by default, when he leaves with the kids, and she spends the rest of the book almost pulled in half as the mystery surrounding Jessica’s ordeal unfolds in the midst of her personal crisis.

And we mustn’t forget Dominic, the drop-dead gorgeous abductor with psychopathic tendencies.

The author interweaves the storylines deftly, against a background of a wintry London. There’s no shortage of emotional variety, with visual, cringe-inducing scenes set in a glamorous warehouse apartment overlooking the Thames; drab scenes set in the Gold family home and Travis and Jessica’s flat; sad scenes set in Kim’s family home and the friend’s flat where she holes up.

Tammy Cohen does it all very well; she’s an experienced, sure-handed writer, and she handles a complex scenario with skill and confidence, unpacking the layers of plot at exactly the right pace to keep the reader engrossed, and saving the best twist till the final chapters.

But after a major bestseller hits the headlines, there’s always an element of bandwagon-jumping as other authors and publishers reach out for their share of the action. I’m not saying which major bestseller because it would be spoiler; but I have to say there’s just a touch of that here.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Tammy Cohen (who previously wrote under her formal name Tamar Cohen) has written several acclaimed novels about family fall-out:The Mistress's Revenge, The War of the Wives, and Someone Else's Wedding. The Broken was her first pyschological thriller, followed by Dying for Christmas. Her brand new hardback novel, First One Missing is out now.
She lives in North London with her partner and three (nearly) grown children, plus one badly behaved dog.

Chat with her on Twitter @MsTamarCohen

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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