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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Dear Amy

Helen Callaghan

Narrator: Michelle Ford


Publisher: HarperAudio

Publication Date: 10/18/2016

Format: Audio

My Rating: 4.5 Stars Fans of Jennifer McMahon, Mary Kubica, and early Gillian Flynn will love this chilling, tightly-spun debut novel of psychological suspense about an abduction that stirs memories of a twenty-year-old cold case. As a thirty-something Classics and English literature teacher, working at a school in Cambridge, Margot Lewis leads a quiet life. In her spare time, she writes an advice column for the local newspaper. But she can’t help feeling that she’s the last person who should be doling out advice, because her marriage has failed.

When one of Margot’s students, fifteen-year-old Katie Browne, disappears, the police immediately suspect she’s been kidnapped. Then, not long after Katie goes missing, Margot receives a disturbing letter at the newspaper offices. The letter is supposedly from Bethan Avery, a fifteen-year-old girl who was abducted from the local area twenty years ago…and never found. In the letter, Bethan states that she is being held captive and is in terrible danger. The letter ends with a desperate plea for her rescue.

The police analyze the letter and find it matches a sample of Bethan’s handwriting which they’ve kept on file since her disappearance. This shocking development in an infamous cold case catches the attention of Martin Forrester, a criminologist who has been researching Bethan Avery’s puzzling disappearance all those years ago. Spurred on by her concern for both Katie and the mysterious Bethan, Margot sets out—with Martin’s help—to discover if the two cases are connected. But then Margot herself becomes a target...will she be next?

Riveting to the final page, this is a masterful, sophisticated, and electrifying debut.

My Review

Set in Cambridge, Helen Callaghan’s hauntingly atmospheric debut, DEAR AMY- spins an intriguing mysterious tale of a current teenage girl’s abduction, with a twenty-year-old cold case of evil and desperation, and a woman of secrets. A novel of contrasts. Good and evil. Darkness and Light. In order, to solve a mystery and help the victims, the complex protagonist must return to the underworld, her haunted past with an intense unwavering strength of will. There is a lot here beyond the surface, as the complex layers are unraveled. You do not want to miss a single thing! Margot Lewis is the agony aunt (a columnist who gives advice when people write in with problems) for The Cambridge Examiner. Her advice column, ‘Dear Amy’, gets all kinds of letters; but none like the one she’s just received.

"Dear Amy, I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me. Please help me soon. Bethan Avery"

Margot is unhappy in her marriage (Eddie), unable to have children and a teacher at an exclusive high school in the town of Cambridge, as well as the advice column, Dear Amy. Her personal life is not going well, and she often has panic attacks. As the book opens a teenage girl, Katie Brown, age fifteen, is packing, leaving for good. It is raining. She has had enough. She is second guessing her decision. She does not like Bryan, her mom’s boyfriend which has worked his way into their lives. Her mom was always taking her side. Telling her what to wear. She will go to her real dad's house. She is running. Escaping. She was always angry. A car pulls up next to her. An older man. She does not know him. The man is calling her name. How does this man know her? The youth club. She has not been her in two years. He offers to give her a lift. A responsible person. It is pouring rain. His car looks warm and dry. She is exhausted. Maybe she can go back home. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Margot soon learns Katie is missing. One of the students at her school. Something does not seem right. Soon thereafter, Margot receives a Dear Amy letter. A desperate plea from a girl, Bethan Avery who says she is being held captive and in terrible danger. The Cambridge postmark was mailed the day before. The girl says a man is holding her in a cellar and will not allow her to return home. She could only imagine rape, torture, and murder. Something about this letter is disturbing. Her mind goes to the scholarship girl, and swimmer, Katie Brown. She was worried for Katie. She goes to the police station. Shocking. This girl Bethan Avery, was abducted twenty years ago and never found. How is this possible? Additional letters appear, and the investigation shows similarities in the handwriting of the letters as compared to the diary of the Bethan Avery. What happened to Bethan Avery? She had been forgotten. Is the letter for real? Margot is completely drawn into this chilling mystery. An obsession. At first she thought it could be just a crazy letter; however, the girl continues to say she is being held a prisoner in a dark cellar, crying out for help. When more letters start to appear, and further investigation reveals startling similarities between the handwriting and that in a diary of the supposed author, Bethan Avery, Margot finds herself totally immersed, which will have life changing consequences. Told from perspectives of both perpetrator and victim, you hear the desperation of a terrified girl trapped by a monster, and Margot’s unquestionable mental state. At the same time, we also hear from an evil abductor. In the meantime, a criminologist Martin Forrester shows interest in the case, and joins Margot in the investigation. How are the two cases connected? He states this has happened six times since 1998. Has Katie replaced Bethan?Why did the letters come to her? A scam? Had she survived for the last seventeen years? The ongoing mystery: Why is Margot receiving the pleas for help as Dear Amy? She was presumed abducted and murdered in the nineties. How is this happening? Answering this question may cost Margot everything. She is also tormented with fear while reading the letters, and through these letters, Margot may learn the truth that threatens to tear open the fissures in her own history. Haunting, Twisty, and Chilling! The usage of elements: rain, a gated home reflecting isolation, garden, the setting, imprisonment; snow, magpies, shapes, darkness, and Greek myths — all add a layer of mystery and compliment the experience. On the surface, Margot is a successful woman, teaching Classics and English at a prestigious school and married to an ambitious man before he was unfaithful. She also was the woman behind the advice column. However, Margot appears to be hiding something. Memories repressed. She could be fooling everyone. Lies. She could be hurting herself, and causing her life to unravel. Horrors. A secret lurking in her past. Would she risk exposing herself trying to help others? At the same time, her own husband may betray her. I listened to the Audiobook and the narrator Michelle Ford delivered a suspenseful spine-chilling performance! Callaghan’s writing is intense, and spellbinding at times with vivid settings, and scents- drawing you in, while the reader is glued to the pages trying to solve the complex mystery of these women. Thought-provoking. I enjoyed learning why Callaghan set her novel in Cambridge, (a place of contrasts) as it supports the contrasts in the heroine’s life. Author Helen Callaghan discusses the dilapidated fictional manor where chilling crimes take place. "The Grove." I found this quite intriguing and true. When I invest time in a book, am always intrigued by the author’s inspiration and topics behind the book. I enjoy researching further and enjoy sharing with other readers. A nice interview with the author: Helen Callaghan and Gilly Macmillan. Note to readers: I noticed a few reviewers did not finish the book. Be patient. Would encourage you to go back and reread. This is not a book to be rushed. A twisting plot worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Delving deep into the horrors, creepiness, murkiest and darkest corners of the human psyche. A strong female heroine! Helen Callaghan is an author to follow! An absorbing debut, and looking forward to seeing what’s coming next.

Fans of unreliable narrators will enjoy this well-crafted cleverly constructed suspense thriller, as well as those who enjoy The Good Girl Mary Kubica's psychologically rich hypnotic writing. (My favorite).

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Advance Praise

“Accomplished, engaging and utterly thrilling; beautifully written, with a narrator who manages to be both vulnerable and fierce at the same time…. The breathtaking finale is the most exciting and terrifying thing I have read in a very long time.” (Elizabeth Haynes, New York Times bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner) “An accomplished psychological twister.” (Daily Mail) “There is much to draw readers into this ripped-from-the-headlines debut novel…. Callaghan definitely shows plenty of promise, and this debut may attract some attention from fans of the unflinching Jennifer McMahon.” (Booklist)

Helen Callaghan

About the Author

Helen Callaghan was born in California to British parents, and her early years were spent in both the US and UK. She was a fiction specialist and buyer for Athena Bookshop, Dillons and Waterstones for eight years. She read Archaeology at Cambridge University, a subject she is still passionate about, and currently works in IT. Read More

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