Drama, Family, Mystery/Thriller

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I was little, I wanted to be a twin. I am not ashamed to admit that I went through a Mary Kate-and-Ashley phase. While I resigned myself to my fate of never having a twin, it hasn’t stopped me from getting excited about any novel that features them! That, along with the interesting premise, caught my eye with this book. Anyways, here I go with my review:

Ava Antipova has many reasons for leaving her hometown and running away to Paris: a failing winery business, a romantic betrayal, a manipulative and crazy sister, an absent father, and a mother suffering from dementia and alcoholism. In Paris, Ava can finally shed her past and be free. But after a mere 2 years, she is called back home. Her twin sister, Zelda, is dead. All Ava knows is that Zelda was staying at home and taking care of the family vineyard and mother, when she was allegedly burned alive in the barn because of an accident. But knowing her sister, Ava suspects that there is more to this story. Everything is too neat, too perfect, too Zelda. And when she receives a cryptic message from her dead sister, Ava knows she was correct. This is one more game to Zelda, and this time she has outdone herself. Through a series of clues that Zelda leaves behind specifically for her, Ava follows the trail and uncovers Zelda’s life and all of the drama she is involved in. Along the way, Zelda makes her twin confront their messed-up past. But why is Zelda doing this and what is at stake in this final game?

This was definitely an interesting read. I was sucked in from the beginning, with its rich prose and intriguing premise. Let me warn you all right now: this is not a thriller. There is no crazy action plot, no scary hidden secret. This is all about dysfunction and family. And damn, this is a dysfunctional family! The author did not hold anything back when she created her characters, for they are all deeply flawed and messed up. While I usually enjoy seeing characters that aren’t “picture perfect”, this novel took it a bit too far; I ended up feeling no connection or emotion to any of the characters. This made me feel really disconnected with the story itself, which is quite a shame because I’m sure my experience with this novel would have been even better if this had happened. I enjoyed the intrigue of finding the clues and putting it together, but there were times when I felt like the author was really stretching the limits in order to make everything tie in – that’s where it became more messy and less cohesive. I really really really liked the prose; the author has great vocabulary and she knows how to use her words! The prose also helped form the character’s personality, which was nice to see. What I mean by that is that the words Ava used were very eloquent and perfect-sounding, which is the image that she strives to maintain even as she falls apart. There were loads of positives with this story from the way the author described everything to the richness of the relationships between characters to the essential question of what Zelda’s endgame is. There were a few negatives as well with the lack of connection to the characters and the sometimes-messy intrigue of putting the past together. A lot of thought and work went into this novel and for a debut, I’m quite happy with what I read! I think that this author definitely knows her stuff and knows how to create a story that will capture the reader’s interest and keep them in the novel! I’m excited to know what she will come up with next.

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