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Tuesday 7 November 2023

‘Improvising Carla’ by Joanna Hines

Published by Simon &Schuster,
2 January 2001.
ISBN: 978-068486052-7 (HB)

For Helen North holidaying alone the Greek Island with its vine covered terraces, wide sands and blue sea, is more beautiful than any photograph could portray, but when the holiday was planned she was part of a couple, and four days into her holiday her bravado at holidaying alone is ebbing away with all manner of problems she never dreamed of. So, when sitting in a pavement café writing postcards, she is hailed by a young woman who travelled out on the same flight, she is delighted to meet a kindred spirit, also on a solo holiday. But meeting Carla Finch is to change Helen’s life irrevocably and forever.

Within only hours of their meeting, Carla is installed at Helen’s hotel and the tone of the holiday is changed. For Carla has an unceasing restlessness, constantly scanning faces of the tourists, as though searching for someone. Sometimes confident, sometimes anxious to please, but always seeking to move on to the next experience. Although never made explicit, they both have an unspoken agreement not to talk about their real lives, so outrageous fantasy was the order of the day. Meeting up with two Americans Glen and KD, provides for the holiday romance. But after too much to drink Carla becomes jealous when Glen pays attention to Helen, and walking back to their hotel, in the early hours of the morning they squabble. And then Carla Finch is dead.

Back in England, struggling with remorse and guilt, Helen finds it impossible to take up the strands of her old life. Maybe the only way to rid herself of the nightmare is to understand Carla, and so she begins to walk in Carla’s footsteps, to meet the people she knew, to learn about her life. As she becomes more immersed in Carla’s life, Helen submerges her own identity in an effort to atone for Carla’s death. But the more she learns, the more she realises all is not as she perceived, nor are the people who surrounded Carla. Obsessed with her own guilt, Helen herself distorts the facts in an effort to both protect and punish herself. But does she really know the truth about Carla, and about her death.

This is an incredible book I was gripped from the first sentence. ‘These days I see Carla everywhere’.The writing is wonderful. I admit that I favour psychological thrillers and I put this up with the best I have ever read. Most highly recommended.


Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Joanna Hines has lived and worked on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, with her husband the Canadian poet Derrek Hines for over twenty years. She was chosen as one of the first authors in the WH Smith’s Fresh Talent Award for her first novel Dora’s Room and has since published six further novels.


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