A Dangerous Crossing
Author Rachel Rhys
Published by Doubleday
Release date 23 March 2017
RRP 12.99 (Hardback)
An Adult Fictional Book – Crime Thriller
Set in 1939, just before the outbreak of WWII, and young, Lily Shepherd takes an ocean liner journey from England to Australia. Compelled to get away from the dark shadows of near past events, her plan is to live in Sydney working in domestic service for a couple of years. Once aboard the good ship Orontes Lily makes her friendships and acquaintances with a small band of people almost straightaway. As a single woman, travelling alone, Lily is thrown into new experiences. Early in the voyage she suffers a bout of sickness, and is home sick at times, especially as news filters through of Germany’s growing aggression. Lily is cliquey with certain people. Her attentions go to a couple from the first-class deck to whom there is much gossip and scandal attached. The pair load luxury upon her. In the meantime, she is having flashbacks, she’s trying to cope with her anxieties and is hoping too that the love she has found for fellow traveller, Edward Fletcher does not end up being unrequited.
COMMENT AND GUIDE
Rachel Rhys (the author) has based this story on the real life journal entries of a young woman who embarked on a voyage like this one a year earlier than Rhys has settled on. Rhys decided to use the diary mentions and produce this fictional story using the diarist’s references to geographical places, her social circumstance and other first-hand observations. The mechanics Rhys has used in making those links in her structuring is sometimes too apparent which affects the flow. The structure too is almost lending itself to being halfway adapted for silver screen showing, or for film or stage. There are director style pointers in the descriptions which seem out of place and the third person narrative is confusing because we hear too much of Lily thoughts in the text. I wonder if Rhys had other plans for this work from the off rather than concentrating wholly on it being a fiction book format.
I sometimes refer to a play being ‘a play of two halves’ meaning there is either improvement or deterioration in Act II to what went before in Act I. The same analogy applies to this book. When I arrived at the middle section I had enjoyed reading it very much and was thinking that this was all set up for suspense building on the intriguing bits that had been presented. It is at this central point the story telling loses momentum. Characters continue to be stereo typified and hopes of being surprised by any one of them quickly falls away. Everyone is suddenly getting hold of the ‘wrong end of the stick’ and I cannot count how many times Edward seems to be missing from Lily’s eye-line. I had worked everything out long before the ending so there’s not much mystery attached. I was bored with reading it long before the confirmations arrived.
This is largely a story about class differences and relationships. It’s about infatuations and sensibilities within pairings and groups. It includes a couple of weak story threads trying to deal with big issues like fascism and people prejudices, as well it is attempting to inform of actual world events over two months of the summer of 1939. Rhys’s decision to interweave real history and happenings from a relatively short time span, with the fickle and somewhat naive reactions of a rather wishy washy central character of fiction does not work. Sub-plots are non existent. Try to imagine British Pathe, meeting Downton Abbey, meeting Murder on the Nile!
Book review by Reviewer and Critic, Debra Hall