Tuesday, December 22, 2015


BREATHE AND RELEASE by Katherine Hayton (2015)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Elisabet wakes with amnesia. The care offered to her by a husband she doesn’t remember descends within weeks into aggression and violence. Lillian lies hogtied in an underground cell. Forget about escape; unless she can manage the necessities of life she’ll be dead within days.

Kristen lost her house, her friends, and her confidence when her parents separated. Now her injured stepmother has moved back in. Has she lost her memory, or lost her mind? Will the secrets hidden in Elisabet's locked memory be enough to set them all free?

It’s no longer surprising that certain “scenarios” seem to be duplicated in a rush of books - and amnesia and/or dementia causing memory loss is the one that has been showing up a lot recently.

BREATHE AND RELEASE is by New Zealand based Katherine Hayton, and in this case, the memory loss is as a result of a car accident, and there’s a complication. Another woman is trapped in an underground hell, unable to escape, barely alive. Readers would be forgiven for assuming that there’s going to be a connection between Elisabet and Lillian, although what the connection is might not be quite as obvious.

The narrative moves backwards and forwards between both women, each of whom seems to be reacting to their situation in similar ways. Elisabet awakens in hospital with very flawed memory and finds herself placed in the care of her ex-husband and step-daughter. It quickly becomes apparent that all is not well with this scenario so a large part of whether or not this book works for you, revolves around whether you’re comfortable with the whole setup. Somehow, something didn’t quite feel right for this reader with a little too much predictability in some areas, way too much convenience in others and some odd sidebars, such as the bad-tempered sulky step-daughter that just seemed to lead nowhere.

Meanwhile Lillian in the cellar is obviously in extremis when the reader first comes to understand her capture. The way she is hogtied, the physical extremity of her situation, the sheer terror that result starts out believable and frightening, and yet somehow Lillian manages to show through that with a surprisingly calm and almost low key delivery. It might be that there’s something slightly tongue-in-cheek about much of the dialogue (internal and external) from both women that will again be something that different readers have a particular reaction towards.

As the story revolves around the character of Elisabet her behaviour, reactions, voice and reasons are the main viewpoint through which the reader has to understand her situation. Even allowing for initial memory loss, as recollection starts to return to Elisabet, her reactions are somehow slowed or dulled. Even to the point of physical attack and threat, she seems somehow oddly glib and dismissive, her voice remains strangely upbeat and ever so slightly light and silly on occasions. Even allowing for something not quite right about her personality, and the scenario of the woman in the cellar, there’s something here that might be seen by some readers as sinister, although it can easily be mistaken for very peculiar detachment.

There are certainly red-herrings aplenty in the plot of BREATHE AND RELEASE, and with books of this style there will be readers who love this, and those for whom it’s less successful. Certainly the idea of victims under extreme threat, and the knowledge that safety is in the hands of somebody who has no idea they are in that position is an interesting aspect to explore. BREATHE AND RELEASE has a go at that exploration in a unique manner and tone.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel

She kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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