If you are looking for a new psychological thriller to read, you should check out Dear Amy.
In this debut novel, author Helen Callaghan focuses on Margot Lewis, a schoolteacher who works as a part-time agony aunt for a local newspaper in Cambridge.
When one of her pupils, Katie Browne, goes missing, Margot receives chilling letters from Bethan Avery, a girl who claims to have been a kidnapping victim.
Intrigued by the letters, Margot discovers that Bethan was a teenager kidnapped about 20 years ago.
Dear Amy opens with Katie Browne’s narration prior to her abduction. And her terrified voice weaves through the chapters, leaving a sense of urgency to find her before it’s too late.
While some believe that Katie ran away from her troubled home, Margot is not convinced of this.
Believing that there is a connection between Bethan’s letters and Katie’s disappearance, Margot decides to speak to the police in the hopes that it will help in the search for Katie.
After her appeal is ridiculed by the police, she is approached by Martin Forrester, a criminologist interested in investigating the letters.
The two work together to solve the mystery, which later reveals a darker truth about the kidnapping.
But the question is, why did Bethan decide to speak out now? Is there any connection between Katie and Bethan? That question lingers on throughout the book and drives the plotline from beginning until the end.
While the book falls into the genre of psychological thriller, Dear Amy’s plot is also intertwined with Margot’s personal problems.
It raises the question of whether Margot is too carried away by her emotions in the search for Katie. Or could the letters be a hoax?
Callaghan’s plotting convinced me to care about the truth and Katie’s safe return.
However, Dear Amy is not just about the search for a missing teenager. Callaghan also explores the psychology of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the effect of the trauma on abuse victims.
Whether the portrayal of PTSD in Dear Amy is realistic or not, I will leave that to the experts.
Callaghan did a superb job by providing the voice of the kidnapper, giving an insight into the mind of a kidnapper. The narration of the kidnapper is twisted, revealing his thoughts about his victims.
However, I felt that Callaghan did not do enough to develop the kidnapper’s intentions and background. Having said that, as brief as it seems, the kidnapper’s narration in Dear Amy will surely make your skin crawl.
As for the main character, Callaghan paints Margot as a brave and complex character, going through a rough patch of her life with her impending divorce, while dealing with the missing pupil case.
Her personal problems, including her past as an ex-junkie, weigh her down heavily. Callaghan also provides a social commentary on how Margot’s peers treated her. It serves as a reminder that mental-health patients are often seen as “attention-seekers”, with their problems dismissed by society.
Not only does Margot have to deal with her personal problems, the people around her are constantly reminding her that the world does not revolve around her, without trying to understand what she is going through.
It’s great that Callaghan addresses the problem here, to remind us to understand the ordeal of the people who have a traumatic past.
While Dear Amy’s plot does build up and gather momentum, it still has its loose ends and loopholes, with some plotlines left hanging.
Nevertheless, Dear Amy certainly delivers its promise of a suspenseful story, and is a good debut effort.
I would say that Dear Amy is an enjoyable and gripping book that managed to sustain my interest throughout.
Author: Helen Callaghan
Publisher: Penguin Books, fiction