This review is written with thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for my copy of Undertow.
Paula is walking along the beach with her dog, when her daughter, Cheyenne discovers the body of a woman who appears to have drowned. It is the body of 29 year old, Zena Johnson. Several years later, we meet Carmen, who is now married to Zena's partner, Tom. Whilst Carmen is out for the day, she realises that some of the local residents believe that what happened to Zena was not an accident. Can Carmen discover what happened?
It is clear from the outset that Undertow is a character led novel. Although this was confusing at first, with so many names to learn and characters to link to one another, the focus on characters, particularly Carmen, helped me to get under their skin and maintain my interest in the outcome of the novel. At times, however, I felt that the characters were developed at the expense of the plot, and that there was too much emphasis on mundane occurrences within the novel. This slowed the pace of the novel a little too much and lessened the impact of the plot.
Heathcote's writing is full of tension, and the atmosphere she creates leaves the reader questioning the integrity of all the characters and wondering what has happened before we meet them. However, the tension builds quite slowly. This is different to the novels I usually read, and therefore at times, I found it quite frustrating.
Undertow is a novel which raises many themes for the reader; including domestic violence, family and trust. These are interesting themes that are relevant in modern society and I admired the way that Heathcote chose to approach them in this novel. However, the true impact of these issues on the characters in the novel is only clear towards the end, and this prevents Heathcote from exploring the themes in depth in a way that would represent their importance.
Undertow is Heathcote's debut novel, and whilst I felt intrigued as I was reading and admired her ability to build tension and create believable characters, I felt that the potential of this novel was not quite realised, and I finished the book feeling slightly underwhelmed.
Undertow is available from Amazon.