It’s that time of year again. The time the glacier gives up bodies.
The ‘shiver’ in the title of this novel doesn’t just refer to the icy cold, French Alps where it’s set, but also to the uneasy feeling you get while reading it. The author creates an isolated and claustrophobic atmosphere almost immediately as the group arrive to a deserted ski chalet. There’s no one operating the cable car or to greet them as they enter, but there is a warm casserole pot in the kitchen – someone has cooked their dinner. From that evening, everything conspires to keep them there, including the worst weather they have experienced on the glacier. This is off season and the five are stuck together, once the closest friends, but keeping so many secrets from each other. The ‘icebreaker’ exercise waiting for them in the function room, ratchets up the tension by partially exposing these secrets – more than one of them slept with Heather, one of them knows what happened to Saskia and one of them killed her. The group goes from reunion chums to suspicious and paranoid immediately. Milla, our narrator, suspects Curtis as the instigator of the weekend, in a last ditch attempt to find out what happened to his little sister. Yet, there’s also a tiny part of her that thinks the worst – that this is Saskia, still alive and ready to wreak revenge.
In a second timeline Milla takes us back to the peak of her snowboarding career. Firstly, to the season where she met her friends for the first time, and realises she is very definitely the underdog. Milla isn’t from the sort of family who put their kids on skis as soon as they can walk. She’s from a humble background and has to work hard to afford to compete. She only has one board. Saskia is the competition, and she first visited this glacier at the age of three with her two snowboarding parents. She’s unmistakable on the course, her white blonde hair flying behind her as she practises tricks in the half pipe. Milla really needs to land a top three position, if she’s going to carry on competing. If you want sponsorships you have to be visible. The author develops their rivalry straight away, when Saskia invites Milla on a night out. Milla finds out how far Saskia is willing to go in order to win. In the club they join Odette – a French snowboarder – and some of the other athletes. Milla is surprised they’re drinking, but doesn’t want to be a killjoy. However, when she buys a round at the bar it’s really cheap. She’s confused, until Heather the barmaid tells her that only one of the drinks is alcohol. This nasty trick sets in motion a chain of revenge and counter attack, that continues until Saskia disappears.
This group have held on to their secrets and their tormentor seems to know how far they will have to be pushed to give them up. People grow more paranoid, suspecting allegiances and rehashing what happened in the past. Milla has found Curtis the most difficult one to let go of and she’s torn between her old feelings and suspecting him as the organiser of this strange reunion. She has to decide whether to trust him or not. Back then there was an immediate chemistry between them, but Milla was scared of it. He was always very close to his sister and she could never work out whether he was being protective of Saskia or the victims of her tricks and games. As Milla explains, athletes have lots of excess energy, and both Brent and Curtis make an offer to Milla, She can knock on the door, and either of them would be happy to have her as a bedfellow. Despite wanting Curtis more, she chooses to sleep with Brent, because she can’t afford the distraction of a full blown love affair. Now she wonders if Curtis still feels the same way about her as he used to, because now she’s close to him again, she knows her feelings haven’t changed.
I love how the chalet gives up small secrets to set the group on edge. Their phones disappear, items go missing from their bags, but strange things appear too, such as Saskia’s ski pass for the final season and a lock of ice blonde hair. The ice axe goes missing from the wall in the dining area and Milla notices that the eyes of a stag’s head mounted on the wall don’t match; it’s one of many cameras watching their every move. Curtis breaks down some of the locked doors determined to find a control room and hopefully get some clues about their culprit. The author skilfully controls what is revealed until you’re so determined to find out what’s going on you stay up reading till 3am! When it’s people that start to go missing, I realised that their tormentor is looking for the ultimate revenge.
I have to say this tale did keep me guessing, not just about who was responsible, but about the psyche of highly competitive people. There’s a level of narcissism and ruthlessness that’s perfect ground for a thriller like this. I didn’t like Saskia because she comes across as spoilt and amoral, unable to empathise with others or share the limelight – even with those she loves. However, she does leap off the page as a fascinating and ruthless young woman. I found myself wanting to know more about her, her upbringing and the environment that had made her so single minded and dangerous. There’s more than one surprise with this turbulent group and in two different timelines. The author has a skill for writing tense scenes that play on certain phobias. I had suspicions about everyone, even our narrator, who does turn out to have a few secrets of her own. The ‘prank’ that really freaked me out, was when Milla is buried alive. I actually found myself unable to catch a breath, because it is one of my worst fears. When the groups tormentor is finally revealed it was the last person I expected and it did seem a little bit improbable, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the novel. This is a taut, well-plotted thriller and a great debut for the author. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.
Meet The Author
Born and raised in Lincoln, England, Allie moved to Australia in 2004. She lives on the Gold Coast with her two young boys and a cat who thinks he’s a dog. Many years ago she competed at snowboard halfpipe. She spent five winters in the mountains of France, Switzerland, Austria and Canada. These days she sticks to surfing – water doesn’t hurt as much as ice when you fall on it. Her first ever job was a Saturday job in a bookstore, at age 14. She taught English for many years and became a full-time writer in 2018.