At last – a proper murder story for YA readers – no vampires, no werewolves, but just a little bit of something slightly spooky! I’m a long-standing murder story fan, and I was gripped from the first page to the last.
The book is Envy, the first in a series of thrillers about Port Gamble, or Empty Coffin, as its original name translates. The author is Gregg Olsen, an American writer with several novels for adults as well as real-life crime books to his name, who sets his books in an area he knows well, the Pacific north-west, and one probably little known to British readers. Here he makes full use of the rather British weather to create a damp, cool, dark environment in which dark deeds somehow seem so much more chilling!
Hayley and Taylor Ryan are twins with a special gift, which provides them with that little bit extra when they search out the real story behind crimes. We are promised that they will appear in more Empty Coffin stories, and the first chapter of the next instalment is tantalizingly added as a postscript to Envy. As five-year-olds they suffered the trauma of a coach accident on the bridge nearby their town, an accident from which killed some of their classmates, and which has scarred the community ever since. Ten years on, it appears that another survivor, Katelyn, has taken her own life, but the twins’ determination to find the truth uncovers some deeply disturbing incidents, and some even more deeply disturbed inhabitants of this sleepy town.
This is really good stuff, with a thrilling story and convincing characterisation, and it also has some serious messages underlying the narrative, about envy, about friendship, about revenge, about mental health and bullying, especially particular type of bullying which is on the increase among young readers: cyberbullying. The invasive nature of this, often totally unexpected, and preying on the hopes and fears of the recipients, makes it particularly vicious and private, and it eats away at the self-image of anyone who falls victim to it.
Knowing that his readership will spend much of their time glued to their computer and their smartphone, Olsen has a website devoted to Empty Coffin, and to Envy with additional material. There’s also a link to advice, discussion and resources about cyberbullying. He also outlines the real-life cases behind Envy, and links to find out more about those. I can’t wait for the next book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a well-written mystery with a twist in the tale!
Envy is published in the UK by Splinter, ISBN 978-1402789571
With huge thanks to Bridget Carrington, Armadillo Reviewer, for this Blog contribution -ed