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Monday 29 June 2020

‘Heat Stroke by Hazel Barkworth

Published by Headline,
28 May 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-6580-9 (HB)

If you’re in the mood for all-action, high-octane thrills, this book probably isn’t the one to try. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that suits the slower pace of hot summer days, it just might fit the bill. The crime at the heart of it doesn’t involve death or violence. The damage is the emotional kind, the kind that happens when one person wields power over another and messes not with the body but with the mind.

Lily is fifteen, part of a tightly knit group of friends, pretty, talented, and eager as all teenagers are to grow up and experience what she sees as the real world. She fails to appear one evening for a gathering of their little coterie, and by next morning it is clear she’s missing.

The other girls have no idea where she is; none of them saw it coming, so at first it’s assumed she has been abducted. Even Mia, the girl to whom Lily was closest, is mystified. The story is seen through the eyes of Rachel, Mia’s mother, a teacher at the school the girls attend. She follows the girls on their evening outings, observes them, telling herself they need extra care and supervision – but she has picked up clues, from things they say and from Lily’s bedroom, and realizes that she knows exactly what has happened. But telling the police, or Lily’s parents, would entail giving up a dark secret of her own...

It all takes place during a heatwave, and the sultry, syrupy atmosphere, thick with swirling emotions and uncomfortable memories, forms an almost tangible background to Rachel’s unfolding recollections about her own past and imaginings about Lily’s fate. The writing is lush and languorous, evoking locations and situations in detail: memories of an apartment in northern France, descriptions of the girls’ gatherings in a local park, preparations for the annual prom, accounts of emotional encounters past and present.

The characters are woven almost seamlessly into the background, and only a few stand out:  Graham the head teacher, efficient and innovative; rough diamond Aaron, Mia’s boyfriend; Lily herself, naïve and unsophisticated. 

This isn’t a crime novel in the accepted sense; rather, it’s a portrayal of the harm we do to ourselves and to others, both by what we do and say and by what we keep to ourselves. It’s a novel about guilt, and betrayal, and the balance of power, and that cusp time we all go through, between child and adult.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Hazel Barkworth grew up in Stirlingshire and North Yorkshire before studying English at Oxford. She then moved to London where she worked as a cultural consultant.  She has an MSt in Creative Writing and the Curtis Brown Creative Novel-Writing Course. She now works in Oxford where she lives with her partner. Heatstroke is her first novel.

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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