Ria Taylor is everything to everyone. Wife and mother, the centre of her family. And the manager of a refuge for women whose partners have driven them out of their homes.
But one night, with her husband away, Ria receives a terrifyingly sinister message. Someone is watching her. Someone who seems to know everything about her. She knows what she should do – seek help, just like she tells her clients to do. But Ria is the help. As events escalate, and terror takes hold, Ria must decide whether to run or hide.
Firstly, an apology. I read this book around the release date and tweeted enthusiastically that my review would follow soon. ‘Soon’ has come several weeks later thanks to life getting in the way!
Jacqueline’s debut novel, Perfect Ten was among the first batch of books I reviewed for this blog back in the early autumn of 2018, and so when I saw that the author was due to release her second novel, I mosied on over to Netgalley quick sharp!
I found Perfect Ten to be such a psychologically insightful read, and for me that was what set it apart from other psychological thrillers I read that year. The author’s professional knowledge was apparent in the development of the main character, and I was intrigued as to whether this would be the case once more in How to Play Dead.
What it lacks – comparatively speaking for me at least – in the addictive thriller department, it makes up for in spades in terms of story which feels much broader this time round. Much of the story is told through the eyes of Ria, an incredible woman; wife, mother and the manager of a refuge for women escaping domestic abuse. The women she comes across, particularly Sheila and Sally as prime, but differing examples of the struggles these women encounter when trying to escape. I know that in the past I’ve, rather naively held views in the past that women should just leave these situations. I’m more informed nowadays, but this novel really reiterated that things are never as simple as that, adding aspects I’d never even previously considered and was actually deeply shocked by.
The other voice within the novel came via the diary entries from Tanya. These were mysterious and it took me a while to figure out where she fit in, but her story was incredibly powerful and I found her story to be the perfect interlude for the action surrounding Ria and the refuge centre. Once more, it was the psychological gravitas of these diary entries which really appealed to me. The way in which Tanya was groomed and cajoled into submission. It’s terrifying when you lay bare the methods of men like Al.
One of the most interesting elements of the novel was of the sessions run by the centre to help rehabilitate the men. To touch upon the reactions and thinking from their point of view was incredibly interesting and added an entirely new angle for me. Rightfully, it is the plight of the woman that is the focus, but it felt refreshing.
Everything about How To Play Dead feels bigger. The story arc is more accomplished, the setting broader, the characters more developed. In Ria is a character I am sure many readers will identify with and the writing surrounding her is terrifically atmospheric and full of suspense as her stalker edges ever closer, my spine tingled, my skin crawled and I found myself breathless in anticipation of what lay next for her.
Highly recommended, and I look forward to the next novel by Jacqueline Ward!
*I received a copy of the book via Netgalley. The decision to read was my own and this review forms my honest opinion.