Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Book Review: Shiver

By Jami Denison

If my recent reading list is any indication, the “locked room” mystery/thriller is back in full force. Agatha Christie’s bestseller And Then There Were None may be the earliest-known example of this genre, which features a small number of people who are trapped together in a building (or on an island) and who one-by-one start to die. The escape room craze may have started the latest rendition; The Escape Room by Megan Goldin was published in 2019. Ruth Ware’s version of this story, One by One, came out this past September. Now Allie Reynolds joins this impressive group, with her locked-room debut, Shiver, that prompted a ten-publisher auction. 

One by One and Shiver both take place in the French Alps, and both feature a cast of characters that is trapped by weather and circumstance. Although Ware is the more experienced writer, Reynolds crafts a more complex plot, dealing with past and present timelines and characters outside the norm. While the plot points are similar, the execution is not. Both books are incredibly compelling, and reading one right after the other would be better than a skiing vacation.

Shiver’s protagonist is Milla, a former snowboarder who dedicated her teens and early adulthood to training. Ten years ago, she was preparing for the competition that would determine her future. Instead, twin tragedies among her friend group derailed her completely. Now she’s been invited to a reunion with those friends, at the same resort where they trained together. It’s off-season, and Milla, her former lover Brent, her former crush Curtis, and married couple Heather and Dale are the only ones there. The occasion: Curtis has finally had his missing sister Saskia declared dead. It was Saskia who disappeared ten years ago; aggressive, bewitching Saskia who was Milla’s best friend and most dangerous rival. But when the reunion kicks off, it’s clear that the event is more than just rehashing old times. An anonymous game implies that someone in the group killed Saskia, and someone else knows where her body is. When their phones are stolen and the lift is locked, the stakes get very high very quickly. 

The book goes back and forth between present day and ten years ago, as Milla, in her first-person account, details her complicated relationships with the other snowboarders. In the burgeoning sport, only other competitors can truly understand and appreciate the challenges. But there are only so many spots in a competition, so many sponsorships. Saskia, who is as talented as she is self-centered, recognizes this instinctively, alternatingly befriending and sabotaging Milla. Estranged from her family and non-snowboarding friends, Milla has no choice but to stay in the group, even if it costs her everything. 

The mystery of what happened to Saskia dominates the book; Milla did something to her rival that she feels guilty about, but she refuses to spell it out to the reader. As the danger increases, the reader wonders whether Saskia has returned from the dead, or whether one of Milla’s friends is attempting a delayed revenge.

I found the novel somewhat confusing at first. It kicks off in the present, so the reader needs to quickly keep track of a bunch of different characters while at the same time deciphering the specific snowboarding vocabulary. I’m a Florida girl who gets cold when it’s under seventy degrees, so that took awhile for me. But after Milla spends some time in the past, getting to know the other characters individually while starting her training, the book hits a very quick stride. While the ending didn’t work for me—parts of it were unintentionally comical—it was definitely a fitting climax.

It’s going to be a long, cold winter, folks. Spend it by the fire with books like Shiver. The heart-pounding that results will count as exercise! 

Thanks to Putnam for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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