Last year I read a memorable debut novel that I really enjoyed. Alison Baillie’s novel “Sewing the shadows together” was an excellent mystery with an atmospheric Edinburgh setting. You can read my review here. Needless to say, I was very excited to receive an ARC of her new novel. I’m also honoured and thrilled to lead off the blog tour for “A fractured winter“.
Olivia and her family live near the scenic Lake Zug, Switzerland. Her husband, Christian, works in the local high school. The same school where Olivia’s eldest son, Julian attends. Christian is Julian’s step-father, and the relationship between the two is rocky to say the least. Olivia and Christian have two younger children together, Marc and Lara.
“She’d thought she was safe, that she’d managed to escape from her past.”
Things are going along fairly well for the little family until one day Olivia finds a threatening note which begins to fracture her perfect facade. Olivia has a secret. She doesn’t want anyone finding out the true reason she moved to Switzerland from Scotland eleven years before.
Then, Sandra, one of Lara’s friends goes missing after school one day in November. Sandra is just eight years old.
The ‘fractures’ in the fractured winter are beginning to appear…
Now we backtrack to a young schoolgirl in Yorkshire. The year is 1984 and Marie is a friendless and emotionally fragile little girl. Her parents are much older than the parents of other children her age. Her religious mother dotes upon her, but her father’s moods are volatile and Marie walks on eggshells in the attempt to evade his wrath. The family are poor and Marie wonders why no friends or relatives ever visit. As she grows into an intelligent teenager, Marie feels suffocated in her home. She wants to go to university to study to be a teacher. When she is sixteen her parents show her a birth certificate.
This explains why she has never felt like she belonged. Her ‘parents’ explain how she was born to a teenage mother who didn’t want her. They were older and childless, and agreed to take care of her only if they changed her name and moved away.
Fast forward to the year 1998. Lucy Sheridan is attending university at St. Andrew’s. She is doing very well academically, but has little to no social life. Her roommate persuades her to go on a date with a rich, handsome, and popular young man. Naive and gullible, Lucy finds herself pregnant after just one date…
Olivia’s world is changing. Her beloved Saint Bernard dog dies, her eldest son Julian seems more distant every day. Her husband, Christian, has become impatient, short-tempered, and condescending towards her. Her son, Julian, is displaying volatile moodiness and anger. Unhappy and fearful for her own young children after Sandra’s disappearance, Olivia turns to her beloved books as a means of escape.
Nearby Olivia’s house is the creepy old Grand Wildenbach Hotel. In disrepair, it has now been purchased by an older woman and is being extensively renovated. Drawn to it, Olivia visits the hotel and is invited in by the owner, Aurelia. This woman, a complete stranger, seems to understand Olivia and provides her with a ‘motherly’ support.
“In the warm comforting presence of Aurelia, everything seemed possible.”
Older rock star, Stevie Dawber has a home in the area. Olivia strikes up a friendship with him, sensing his loneliness. Always curious about her birth father, Olivia wonders if Stevie could be him. Christian doesn’t like the fact that Olivia is spending time with ‘unsavory types’ like Stevie and Aurelia.
Always wondering what happened to little Sandra, Olivia begins to suspect everyone around her. She is tense, and deeply unhappy. Will life ever be the same?
The author’s affection for her adopted homeland is evident in the story. I enjoyed reading about the Swiss customs and could almost feel the winter chill and hear the crunch of the snow underfoot. On reflection, I think this is the first novel I’ve read that was set in Switzerland (with the exception of “Heidi” which I read as a child).
At times, I found myself becoming a bit impatient with Olivia who seemed too gullible and lacking in confidence. She seemed too unaware of the intense ‘creepiness’ factor of the old hotel and its inhabitants. Also, I didn’t warm to her husband Christian at all. I wished she would throw something at him on several occasions. Times when he was controlling and condescending. In fact, all the men in her life seemed lacking in warmth. Olivia was a woman desperately in need of a support system. I liked how Olivia turned to books throughout her life. They were always there when she needed them.
This story shows how feelings of guilt, lack of self-esteem, and no sense of self-worth, can impact a life. “A fractured winter” evoked a strong sense of disquiet in the reader.
With many suspicious characters, several red-herrings, and a high ‘creepiness’ factor, this novel will be loved by many. Recommended to readers who enjoy a thriller with damaged characters, a stunning setting, secrets, creepy hotels, and a satisfying resolution. Overall, an enjoyable read!
I received a complimentary digital ARC of this novel from the author, Alison Baillie, and her publisher, Williams & Whiting. This in no way influenced my rating of the book, nor hindered me from expressing my honest opinions.
Though Alison Baillie was born in Yorkshire and brought up in Ilkley in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, she has always felt Scottish. Her parents were both Scottish and she studied English at the University of St Andrews and afterwards taught English at several High Schools in the Edinburgh area. She has also taught English as a Foreign Language in Switzerland, where she now lives. She loves reading crime fiction, travelling, walking in the mountains, and being with her family and friends.