Published: 12th November 2020
Publisher: Harper Collins
I have always felt that skiing was for a very different breed of people to me – people with money, balance and the ability to look stylish while dressed like the Michelin man. This book has confirmed my suspicions as well as leaving me addicted to the twists and turns of a dark thriller set in motion when two brothers go on a ski break in the 1990s. Adam and brother Will visit La Madiere in France with their girlfriends Nell and Louisa. Louisa and Will met at university, and she’s delighted to be asked to go on holiday but skiing isn’t something she’s done before. Will and Andy’s parents are middle class and the boys were on skis as soon as they could walk. They also have the sort of money that allows for quick ski breaks while at university whereas Louisa doesn’t. When Will says he will pay for it as her Christmas gift she starts to look forward to lazy mornings in fur covered beds, hot chocolate, plenty of sex and beautiful, romantic snowy views. What she gets is a more like a wooden dormitory with stodgy food and the boys bouncing out of bed at 7am in order to ski. Yet something terrible will happen on this holiday, that reverberates through the next twenty years.
The narrative zips back and forth between the 90s and the present day when a different group are on holiday in La Madiere. We meet Hugo, the slightly awkward owner of a travel company who has brought his wife Ria and friends to try out a luxury ski lodge, before adding them to his portfolio. In this narrative I was suspicious of everyone. Hugo’s wife Ria is more attractive than he is and knows it. She’s targeted him and accepted his marriage proposal on the basis that it’s better than living in poverty. She can think of worse men to be with and the lifestyle is exactly what she wants. We know that they’ve agreed to have children, but does she really want a family and what was she running from when they met? Their friends Simon and his wife have a small baby, but this first time Mum seems to be struggling and even disappears one morning. Hanging around are the staff from Powder Puff: Cameron the boss; Matt the lusty ski instructor and Millie the chalet girl with great cooking skills who caters to their every whim. There are simmering tensions between each couple, and possible diversions from both the skiing and their partners. I found myself unable to resist these chapters when I went back to them because I kept waiting for things to implode.
Finally, there is the interspersed narrative of a lonely little girl. She has been left alone by her Mum and is getting her own breakfast and holding tightly to her teddy for comfort. It’s clear that her mother isn’t coping, but this little girl’s distress is hard to read. I found myself wondering about what might have brought her mother so low. Even more addictive was trying to work out which character this little girl might be in the future. I jumped from one character to another and only fixed on one towards the end when a particularly big clue was dropped. I can honestly say I didn’t see every twist coming and I didn’t make every link from past to present. The author really did keep me guessing. The catalyst that brings past and future together is a huge storm, which closes the ski lifts and keeps everyone in their lodge, ratcheting up the tension. When the weather clears, a body is found. Disturbed by a fall of snow from a ledge, the body appears to be a man and has been buried under the snow for many years. This could possibly be the body of one of two brothers, missing since they were lost in a storm back in the 1990s. Past now meets up with the present as his brother is jetted in to identify the body. Who is going to recognise who? Finally, what of the ski guides employed to look after these brothers when they decided to ski off piste? Were they fired and if not, where are they now?
Cooper really does keep the tension throughout this complex narrative; handling several time frames and various narrative voices with ease. The luxury setting is lush, full of delicious descriptions of food, and lashings of alcohol that loosens tongues and possibly morals. The men are largely rich, arrogant and stupid. The woman more quietly manipulative, such as using a seemingly subservient position to assert power. There’s a lot of passive aggression here. I felt most for Louisa in the past narrative, she’s unsure, feels inferior in terms of money, status and looks. I also felt for Hugo who is a quiet man, ruled by his personal assistant Olivia and terribly awkward with customers. He has no idea that his wife engineered their meeting, or that she’s still taking her pill while he thinks they’re trying for a baby. He’s thoroughly decent and this book is about what happens when decent people come up against the unscrupulous and immoral, but in a thoroughly glamorous setting. Great, escapist reading.
Meet The Author
I am a freelance journalist living in the South of France with my husband and two teenage children. We moved from London in 2009 so that the children could grow up bilingual and we could all ski more, and to enjoy a more relaxed pace of life. I learned to ski on a school trip when I was 14 and have loved it ever since. I’m an avid thriller reader and have been since I discovered Agatha Christie as a child.
The Chalet is my first published full-length novel, though I have also written several (unpublished) thrillers for teens and a (what used to be called) chick lit novel set in TV production. Other than skiing and reading I love travel, rollercoaster, and I spend far too much time on social media. Some of my other favourite things include Alan Partridge, sparkly flip flops and salt and vinegar crisps.
You can follow me on Twitter @catherinecooper, Instagram @catherinecooperjournalist or Facebook @catherinecooperauthor