You've been arrested. As you sit in the police station, hungry, cold, homeless, on the run and with a charge of shoplifting hanging over you, an idea of how to escape forms in your mind.
Eleven years ago, Rebecca Winter went missing. You share an uncanny likeness. What if she has come back? And that she, is you?
But what if the cosy life of a loving family, hot food, money and a secure roof over your head turns out to be even more of a nightmare than the one you're trying to leave behind?
This is the exciting and chilling premise for Snoekstra's debut novel. It is a gripping concept and the opening is compelling.
"A memory slowly opens and I realise I know exactly how to get myself out of this.....I know I can pull this off. ....I savour the moment.....enjoying the exact instant their faces change.....'My name is Rebecca Winter. Eleven years ago I was abducted.'"
The narrator of the story remains anonymous throughout - we only ever know her as the Rebecca she is pretending to be - and her character is menacing, cool and without morals. All she wants is to be safe and to escape a prison sentence. It takes a bold person to let a family think their long lost daughter has returned to them; someone without scruples and with a sense of entitlement that usually only belongs to the criminal of the story. It is hard to relate to the protagonist fully but it is fair to say you will be intrigued by her and care enough to read on to see if she really can delude the family. The first person narrative encourages us to relate to this Rebecca rather than the other Rebecca.
The police are initially suspecting but the family readily welcome 'Rebecca' home and enough of the questions are dodged to allow her to join them. There is a bit of artistic license here; 'Rebecca' appears physically unaffected and psychologically unscarred by her eleven years of abduction; she returns to a 'normal' routine quickly and the family seem to reintegrate smoothly too. This is fine to a certain degree -particularly as there are a number of other threads causing enough suspense and tension for the reader to be entertained, but it is a little unfortunate when it competes against such highly acclaimed books like "Room" and TV shows like "Thirteen". However, it is a storyline that will always attract and captivate readers and many will be prepared to suspend reality in the name of a good read.
Once our impostor is settled, Snoekstra takes us back to 2003 and we follow the story of the real Rebecca and the events leading up to her disappearance. The narrative is third person which perhaps helps establish the distance between the past and the present and stops the reader becoming confused about whose story they are reading.
In 2003, teenage Rebecca is plagued by black outs, nightmares, mysterious bleeding and a sense that she is being watched and followed. I enjoyed Snoekstra's description of the night hauntings and the confusion about what she thinks she's seeing and what might actually be happening.
The first two thirds of the novel continue in a relatively predictable style; events and information comes to light as we might expect with a thriller, and the character's continue to develop and reveal themselves. The impostor reveals a rather unsavoury attitude where she feels she's entitled to her new life. She plays with the new relationships she's suddenly involved in and the old friends she has stolen from Rebecca. She's honest and open with the reader about how she enjoys mind games and what her objectives are. The back story also continues in a relatively straightforward manner, peppered with a few twists, hints and mysterious, unexplainable happenings.
Then the last third of the book suddenly explodes across the pages. The pace pushes up to full throttle, the dramatic tension soars off the grid and the background characters step out of the shadows to reveal their menacing and deeply frightening selves. The reader finally feels some sympathy for the impostor and for the teenage Rebecca as their fates hurtle along to a climatic ending. It was like watching an episode of "The Following" where the budget on bloodshed is limitless and the characters are guided by some deeply disturbing, misguided beliefs. There is a lot of violence and graphic description.
For me, and as this is an honest review, I did feel like the ending of the story didn't quite tally up with the rest of the story because of such a change in gear, pace, content and atmosphere. The final section of the book was a little more of a blood bath than I expected from the more intriguing atmosphere of initial "will she won't she get away with it" premise.
But I do think Snoekstra has a good nose for a plot. There were many elements I enjoyed and I would be interested in seeing what she writes next. I would have preferred to engage a little more fully with one or other of the characters and see her stick with the more unsettling, predatory style of writing which evokes a much more subtle sense of fear and foreboding.
My thanks to HQStories, Harper Collins Publishers and NetGalley for the ARC of this novel in return for a fair and honest review.
"Only Daughter" is published by Harper Collins on 22nd September 2016.
Anna Snoekstra was born in Canberra, Australia in 1988. She studied Creative Writing and Cinema at The University of Melbourne, followed by Screenwriting at RMIT University. She currently lives in Melbourne with her husband and tabby cat.
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