London, Orion, 2013, 321p
I have been looking forward to reading this book for months, and perhaps have waited until the wrong time of year to read about murder under the summer sun. But even whilst curled up with a wintery cold, I was transported to a Spanish villa to watch the unfurling secrets of a gang of old school friends.
One summer ago, Janey Bradshaw died on the night of her prom. Was it suicide, or did something darker happen that night? After a year apart, her friends reunite, hoping to put the past behind them and get their friendship back on track. But their secrets follow them and it soon becomes clear that some lies cannot remain buried.
Cruel Summer is a thrilling, clever novel. You are kept guessing throughout - every time you think you might have pinpointed the truth, you are made to question everything you thought you knew. The book is very easy to read, with relatable characters, light comic relief and gripping drama.
What I love most about this novel is it's self-consciousness. Writing a crime mystery has become incredibly difficult, with every reader thinking they know it all already. There are certain established tropes that often mean no story is original, and the audience knows the culprit long before the characters do. But here, Dawson employ a genius technique that keeps you unsure of yourself, questioning even the most traditional Gothic devices.
Ryan, one of the protagonists in Cruel Summer, is a drama student who adores scary films. He is a self-confessed fantasist, preferring to believe his life is part of some great television series. Much of the story is seen from his perspective, so when the criminal action begins to unfold, the reader's investigation is led by Ryan who categorises the events according to the traditions of every existing murder mystery. This explicit self-awareness lures you into a false sense of security, and so whilst Ryan distracts you with his seemingly clever and sensible deductions, James Dawson is able to create the most genius twists and turns.