One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis
William Morrow - Thriller
Emily has run away from her family but Ben and Charlie can make it on their own. On impulse, she takes the train from Manchester to London, finds a room in a shared house, makes a friend, locates a job, and begins an entirely new life as Cat Brown. It's a long way down from lawyer to receptionist but she can't go back. Sometimes Cat seems to be blaming herself, sometimes her twin sister, Caroline. But, whatever happened, she can't think about it . . . at least until the one-year anniversary, when the thought makes her so ill that things go terribly wrong, just because she's trying to forget. What happened to make Emily run away from home? Has she gone far enough? Or has she gone too far?
OK, hmm, mixed feelings about this one. I could put up a spoiler warning but I don't really want to mess it up for anyone, so I think instead I'll just try to keep it vague and talk about what I liked and disliked about One Step Too Far, beginning with the problems I had with the story.
Things I didn't love about One Step Too Far:
- I had a terrible time getting into the book. In fact, normally I would have set it aside because it wasn't till I was fully a third into the book (about 120 pages) that I began to care about Emily/Cat enough to wonder what on earth happened.
- I found Cat's quick rise from receptionist to account manager in an advertising firm beyond implausible. I've been a receptionist. I've never felt so invisible in my life. I was basically a tool; all anyone cared about was getting their messages and they noticed me only if I made an error. I'm sure it's possible to move up from a receptionist job but from answering the phone to being a creative, making presentations, traveling, and attending cocktail parties in 9 months? No. Just no.
- It was also difficult understanding why Cat went from being clean-living Emily to a cocaine user, although the big reveal does help explain that.
- The plot twist or big reveal was a cheap trick. I wanted to punch something. I used a similar device in a short story, decades ago. Everyone hated it. So, I'm surprised it was such a hit in the UK (One Step Too Far was previously released by Penguin Random House in Great Britain). Having said that, there were hints dropped. Sometimes Emily blamed herself for the nebulous bad thing, sometimes her twin. So, when that twist happens and the horrible thing is revealed, you feel misled and gutted but nod with understanding, at the same time.
- There was a second deliberately misleading bit in the final chapter. I don't understand the point of misleading readers, again, at that point. Did she get her happily ever after or did everything go to hell? Just tell me, Author. There's no need to tease.
Things I liked about One Step Too Far:
- The writing is competent. I thought the story flowed. Even though I had difficulty finding a reason to stick it out (the reason I did: two of my trusted reader friends gave One Step Too Far 4 stars at Goodreads and I decided to keep reading to understand what it was they appreciated about the book), once I became invested in the story, I made the conscious decision to ignore my inner editor and just enjoy it. At that point, the pages began to fly.
- The setting. London is my favorite city and I know it about as well as anyone who has visited half a dozen times, so there were lots of familiar names and places. There was one flawed bit that I only recognized because I've stayed exactly in the location described and it wasn't a major error (in fact, I think it might have been erroneous because someone chose to Americanize the wording, which made it inaccurate in a way that leaving it alone would not have), so other than that one moment -- which jarred me a bit -- I really enjoyed the familiarity of the setting.
- After the initial third of the book, which was not particularly fast-paced, and not initially caring where the book was headed, I finished the book in a single evening. Yes, it took a long time to get into; but, once it gripped me it didn't let go.
- Apart from the deliberate deception, I really did like the ending of the book.
- Once you know what's happened, it will gut you. The story is both heartbreaking and beautiful.
Recommended but not a favorite - I didn't care for the way the author twisted that little something to make the reader believe one thing when the truth was a shade different. I felt used. But, I liked the setting, eventually found the book compelling, and also thought the truth of the ending was believable. So, overall, I liked the book but there were a few too many implausibles for it to become a favorite. Having said that, I would definitely read this author, again. One Step Too Far is apparently the author's first book. If so, I'm impressed. It's definitely well-written and with a little less trickery I think she could very well write a 5-star thriller. I don't know that I feel like One Step Too Far should be categorized as a thriller because it never appeared that Emily/Cat was hiding from anyone but herself; it didn't appear likely that anyone would pursue her. But, that's just semantics. The story worked in many ways and I'm glad I finished it.
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