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A Dangerous Crossing
Rachel Rhys

Doubleday (Penguin Random House UK)
23 March 2017/ ISBN 9780857524706
General Fiction/Historical

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde

 

Lily Shepherd leaves her family and her waitressing job behind when she embarks on the ocean liner Orontes. She is one of the young women who have had their passage paid in order to swell the numbers of “lady helps” in Australia. But her new job in service seems a world away as she mingles with people she would never meet socially back home. It is 1939, and while everybody is drinking cocktails and dancing at balls a war looms, and when the ship reaches Sydney, two people will be dead.

This novel has been likened to the works of Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith, but it is very much its own book. I would hesitate to call it a “mystery,” and instead would place it firmly in general historical fiction, as there is so much more in here than crime. There is, in fact, no detective work, but readers of a wide range of genres will enjoy sheer good writing, excellent characterisation and tangible descriptions. Ms Rhys is adept at describing the toxic, pressure cooker world of a liner on a long voyage. As the heat increases and the chance of war gets more likely, tempers fray, romances are conducted and lives are changed. Lily makes for a believable and ultimately rather sensible protagonist, seeing the world of high (and middle class) society for the first time as a participant. Like the other main characters, she has a secret of her own, but whether it will save or destroy her you will have to discover for yourself. The “mystery” here consists of wondering who the murderer is, glimpsed at the beginning, and what the various secrets can be. Interspersed with this are the shore excursions, and here the author also excels at describing hot, dusty markets, and wonders like the pyramids. I couldn’t put it down, and although it is not a quick read, I savored every word. Definitely one of this year’s must-read novels.

 

Reviewed 2017
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