Blackbird by N. D. Gomes

The Blurb On The Back:

My name is Alex.

I am fifteen years old, and I don’t know where my sister is.

Or if she will ever come back. 

It was New Year’s Eve the night that, the dead blackbirds descended, hours before Alex McCarthy’s sister Olivia went missing from a party.

Committed to finding out what happened to her sister within the previously safe walls of their subarctic Orkney village, Alex knows that dishevelled, sometimes intoxicated, Detective Inspector Birkins is her best shot.

Yet as they uncover the secrets behind Olivia’s last night, Alex starts to find out things she may be better off never knowing …   

You can order BLACKBIRD by N. D. Gomes from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

15-year-old Alex McCathy lives on the Orkney Islands with her parents and 18-year-old sister Olivia.  She and Olivia had planned to see in the New Year together but Olivia never returned from the party she was going to before hand and although Alex thinks that she’s just got drunk and gone off somewhere, as the hours pass with no sign of her she and her parents begin to worry.

The official search for Olivia is led by DI Birkins (a dishevelled, middle-aged man with a dubious reputation) assisted by DC Allans (a younger, friendlier man who will take over as Orkney’s sole detective when Birkins retires to the mainland).  But with Olivia’s friends and boyfriend insisting that they don’t know what happened to her, Alex is determined to help them get to the truth but the more she discovers about Olivia’s life, the more she wonders if she ever really knew the sister she’s always looked up to …

N D Gomes’s contemporary crime fiction YA has some interesting ideas and I believed in Alex’s grief but it also veered a little too close to melodrama and cliché for my tastes (notably in the dancing metaphors for Olivia, which I thought were overdone) while I never really believed in the relationship between Alex and Birkins and the mystery element lacked tension such that I didn’t really feel invested in the final reveal.

I thought that Alex was fairly well drawn as a character and believed in both the pedestal that she put her sister on and the closeness that existed between them but I didn’t think that this was really challenged by the revelations that come out from Olivia’s life.  I also found that Alex’s grief sometimes veered towards melodrama and cliché, especially when she considered Olivia’s love of dance and desire to escape the Orkneys and the idea that her grief-stricken parents would completely forget her birthday was very contrived.  The relationship between Alex and Birkin didn’t really convince me either in part because I wasn’t sure why Alex had such faith in the detective, especially given the revelations about his past.

The mystery element really doesn’t have much tension to it, in part because Alex’s investigations don’t really have any urgency to them while the slim cast of suspects makes it fairly easy to guess the final twist, which I didn’t feel invested in.

Ultimately, it’s an okay read and I did keep turning the pages and would check out Gomes’s other work on the basis of it but I wasn’t sure what kind of book it was supposed to be.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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