This is a real sizzler of a novel! Hot in every sense of the world, set in picturesque Italy with a sense of growing menace all the way through. I read this one in the garden, with a Pimms in hand and with every chapter became more convinced of the old saying; the grass is never greener on the other side. Laura and Nick have been through a lot. Back in London they were struggling with infertility and Laura hadn’t felt like herself for a long time, the fertility drugs pumping her full of hormones and the grief of miscarriage left her feeling broken. When she discovers a betrayal, after Nick accidentally leaves his phone at home, she’s angry and resentful too. In his eagerness to make it up to her, Nick suggests they do what Laura has always wanted, move to Italy and create a holiday hideaway for couples. They discovered Luna Rossa on a visit to Italy several months ago, after which Laura suffered a third miscarriage. It is in the Marche region, a largely unknown area of Italy next to Tuscany, but less expensive. Luna Rossa is wonderfully isolated and just dilapidated enough to still be charming. It includes a pool, a small derelict cottage and beautiful grounds that fall away steeply gifting the house with incredible views across the countryside. Only a few months later they are preparing to welcome their first couple for a three week stay. It seems idyllic, but they’re taking a risk in welcoming complete strangers into their home. Laura has stalked her guest Madison on social media and she seems very outgoing and glamorous. Laura and Nick could be underestimating how disruptive it can be to have strangers living in your home, especially these strangers…
I felt the author set out Nick and Laura’s back story and state of mind very well. Nick is contrite and desperate to make it up to Laura for his indiscretion, but he’s sacrificed a lot to follow her dream and might have been desperate to make it happen at all costs. Laura is still resentful of Nick’s mistake and the trauma of infertility has left her a little lost, unsure of who she is anymore. With hormones still not back to normal and the sadness of losing a child she’s very fragile and could easily be manipulated. I got a sense that she wanted to recapture herself, the person she was before their fertility journey began. It’s as if she wants to take off her experiences like taking off a costume and simple be who she was before. It takes time to process trauma and assimilate the experience into your sense of self, something she’s barely started. There’s a reckless feel to her actions, almost a need to self destruct. I thought the author’s description of the miscarriage experience was brilliant, I’ve been there and recognised Laura’s confusion at some of the euphemism’s used by medical staff to avoid emotive language; using ‘products of conception’ rather than baby and ‘come away’ rather than loss. It rang so true and I had empathy for her. As we start seeing flashbacks of her life at university and her relationship with the man she loved, I found her curiously passive. This annoyed me, although I did realise later on that it might be a coping mechanism. She seems to slip away in her mind and so any trauma or difficult experience only happens to her bodily rather than emotionally, hopefully leaving her able to cope. Sadly it just leaves her divorced from her emotional self, like an observer rather than someone truly living that moment and feeling it. Shutting emotions out never works and her destructive behaviour is the bodily experience of those repressed emotions.
Once their guests arrive, Madison and husband Bastian, the tone is set for their stay. Gregarious and sociable Madison seems to suck Laura and Nick into her orbit and they’re soon acting like friends visiting rather than paying guests. This is inexperience on the couple’s part and ordinarily they might learn from it, but there’s an air of menace in the way Madison ‘plays’ with Laura. She dresses Laura up, is overtly sexual and likes to play mind games with her husband. Is it for herself, or Bastian’s pleasure that she does this? At a neighbour’s pool one afternoon Madison comes on to Laura with Bastian watching. He’s clearly enjoying himself, but is it just the titillation or is he enjoying Laura’s discomfort and confusion too? In these moments of challenge Laura is again curiously passive, going along with the moment rather than causing a fuss. There’s also a feeling of unease around the builders who turn up to see Nick, their disdain of Laura very evident in the way they dismiss her objections as if she knows nothing about her own house. Is this simply a chauvinistic attitude or is something more sinister going on? The tension is often at fever pitch, accentuated by the physical temperature and constant need to cool off. The author then adds sections of unbearable tension, such as the slightly ‘Don’t Look Now’ masquerade feel of the town’s medieval festival. The heat is unbearable and Laura is never sure who is behind the costume and has the uneasy feeling that they could have stepped back in time; the permanence of the ancient buildings seeming to mock her for feeling untethered and temporary. The author also drip feeds a little bit of stress into everyday life, such as Madison’s wardrobe making Laura feel she has to make an effort too. Nick notices she’s now wearing make- up every day and styling her hair whereas she wouldn’t normally bother. These changes show that Laura isn’t comfortable in her own skin, this pair have some sort of hold or influence but what is it? We are taken back in time to her university days for the answers and then the shock revelations surrounding the guests start to unfold. With secrets being kept about Luna Rossa too, the conclusion is explosive to say the least. This will make you wish you were in Italy, but not with these people.
Meet The Author
Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist. She is an avid reader of Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie, both of whom have influenced her writing. She lives in the Cotswolds, where she writes full-time. The Heatwave is her fourth novel