It’s not too often that I read a book set in Cork. Scouring my brain matter now I can’t think of one (any recommendations in the comments please!).
Much has been made of the fact that Catherine Ryan Howard’s debut novel, Distress Signals, is set on a cruise ship but I found it a far more appealing point that the novel begins – and stays for a good chunk of it – in Cork. So many novels are set in major cities and global hotspots but it’s a big wide world out there so it was refreshing to meet a protagonist who had set up camp in a part of Ireland that we don’t hear about quite as much.
For Adam, life seems to be going his way – finally. A struggling writer, one of his movie scripts has just sold, justifying years of sacrifice as his friends moved on to houses, holidays, families and something beyond studenty style poverty. He has a loving relationship with his girlfriend, Sarah, who stuck by him through the hard times and is now, doing well in her own career. So much so, that when we meet the pair, she is heading off on a business trip to Spain.
Or so we think.
A few days later, Adam cops that Sarah is not answering her phone. She hasn’t been in contact at all and then her passport arrives in the post with a note “I’m sorry – S”. No one save for Adam appears much concerned – grown adults are entitled to disappear if they want to and murderous shenanigans that happen as sea are – well – complicated. But Adam is convinced there is something wrong and so starts the trip down the rabbit hole where he will discover his happy life was not at all what he thought it was.
I’ll confess that I’ve been reading Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog and following (stalking!) her on twitter for the past couple of years. I love her honesty about her desires to be a traditionally published author despite her self-publishing successes and her insights into the difficulties about putting the seat the of the pants to the seat of the chair and writing the damn book already. If nothing else her insights into the average writer’s coffee habits should pique everyones interest. Needless to say, I was eager to read Distress Signals as the culmination of her years of dedication to the process. She did it, I thought. She bloody well did it! I had so many questions. What does the final product look like? What sort of a novel will it be? But the most important question, from writer to reader…
Is it any good?
Well, yes it is. It’s very good. It’s a solid debut, which I read in a couple of sittings. Given that it’s the summer I would say that it’s a perfect holiday read. The narrative is well paced, the twists and turns are very twisty-turny and the characters are likeable but flawed enough to keep things interesting. In essence it does what Ryan-Howard set out to do – it’s a well plotted and characterised story that will keep the reader guessing well into to the third act. It’s not a deep novel but it’s an effortlessly entertaining one and, as a reader, I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
So yeah, a great summer read – but maybe cancel the cruise?