Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Review: SHIVER

SHIVER by Allie Reynolds (Headline, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

When Milla is invited to a reunion in the French Alps resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career, she drops everything to go. While she would rather forget the events of that winter, the invitation comes from Curtis, the one person she can't seem to let go.

The five friends haven't seen each other for ten years, since the disappearance of the beautiful and enigmatic Saskia. But when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don't know who has really gathered them there and how far they will go to find the truth.

In a deserted lodge high up a mountain, the secrets of the past are about to come to light.

Queensland author and former pro snowboarder Allie Reynolds takes some classic mystery and thriller tropes and seasons them with her passion for the slopes to keep things fresh in her very good debut. 

SHIVER got plenty of pre-release hype, and largely delivers as an absorbing, icy thriller. 

It is an intriguing tale of a group of five British friends - or once friends - who came together years before thanks to life on the pro snowboard circuit, and now have a reunion atop a mountain at a French ski resort. Guilt and secrets swirl as what was meant to be a nostalgic gathering quickly turns menacing when they realise they’re trapped in the deserted lodge. Who brought them together now, and why? 

Our protagonist Milla was the newbie to the group ten years before when they were all hanging out, training and competing in the French Alps, hoping to add sponsors and maybe make the Olympics. Curtis and Saskia were the golden siblings, talented and successful. Dale and Brent were Curtis's friends and rivals, all pushing each other to greater heights (or bigger air). Heather worked the bar at the resort, so was an outsider in her own way too (not being a competitive or even keen snowboarder). 

Reynolds' tale slaloms smoothly between present - as Milla, Curtis, Dale, Brent and Heather reunite - and past (when a tumultuous season led to tragedy), and she does a nice job ratcheting up the tension. 

Saskia is the ghost in the room in the now, having a great impact even in her absence. The flashbacks give us further insights into someone used to being the focus wherever she went. Sister, lover, rival. They also bring some freshness and colour with Reynolds' write-what-you-know insights into the behind-the-scenes of the cut-throat competitive world of young snowboarders with Olympic dreams

Milla felt like an outsider back then, and still does now, especially as she hasn't really been on her board since the tragedy that occurred years before. She only heads to the reunion because Curtis asked her. 

But did he? 

Overall, I really enjoyed SHIVER. Reynolds does a great job texturing a classic set-up (isolated group who may get picked off because of something they were involved with in the past) with lots of colour from her life as a professional snowboarder. The story really soars in the flashback episodes, as we get behind-the-scenes insights into the day-to-day life of those involved in high-level snowsport, along with all the friendships and rivalries of a disparate group thrust together by shared passions. 

Reynolds’ passion for and understanding of that world shines through and gives extra oomph to her storyline, which twists like a freestyle snowboarder hurtling down the halfpipe as it builds to a strong finish. A solid debut that blends something old with something new.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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