It’s the summer of 1976 and Britain is in the grip of a heatwave. Robert Riordan pops out to buy a newspaper and doesn’t come back. Gretta turns to her grown children for help, despite their differences in the past; they converge on the family home in London to looks for clues on their father’s whereabouts. But each one has their own secrets and grudges simmering under the surface.
Maggie is undoubtedly a talented writer. Her writing makes you feel part of the scene and her characterisation is some of the best there is. There’s one part where Michael Francis is trying to manage dinner with the kids and you can feel your blood pressure rise with his. It is just spot on and it is something to create dramatic tension in such a domestic, everyday situation.
Aoife’s story was the one I was most drawn to. Having never learned to read (it is clear to the reader that she has undiagnosed dyslexia) she struggles in her job and keeps the secret from the world. She is the most estranged family member, having moved to New York to escape her old life. It is clear from Monica’s storyline that something has come between them. I felt for Aoife so much; how difficult it must be to live without being able to read even simple things. Something we take for granted. Certainly something that would be completely isolating in this day and age of internet and text messaging, but still frightening enough in her world. Every time she put something in that file, I felt scared for her.
I was a bit disappointed that the heatwave didn’t play a more important part. In the opening pages, the heat is oppressive and feels like it will dominate every action. There are a few wonderful little snippets of information such as illegal baths that I personally wanted more of. The heat soon fades into the background and seems forgotten about. I never got the feeling that the heat was the blame for any of it.
Whilst her characters jumped off the page, I found the overall plot a little weak. Each character has their own important story but the backbone of the novel should have been the father’s disappearance. He was barely mentioned and it made the characters come across as self-absorbed. He is really just a vehicle to get the family together and interacting. I haven’t read any of her books before and I don’t know if this is something of her style. If that’s the case, I’m sure it won’t bother fans and like I said before, her writing is wonderful in itself.
There are quite a few things that are implied rather than stated which gave me a slight feeling of it being unfinished. I got to the last page and felt there should have been something more definite. It’s easy to infer answers but I do like some conclusion in a book.
Instructions for a Heatwave is one of the titles due to be released by Tinder Press, the new imprint from Headline. It will be available in hardback and ebook formats from 28th February 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.