Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Shiver is an apposite title for this debut novel by Allie Reynolds – evoking as it does fear, terror, fright, sexual tension and suspense.  Set in the French Alps, the novel sets out a short period of time in the lives of eight young people – Milla, Curtis, Brent, Saskia, Heather, Dale, Julien and Odette.  Most of the forenamed are competitive snowboarders competing in various snowboarding events ‘ten years ago’.  The title of the chapters which relate the events at the competition is ‘Ten Years Ago’ while the alternating chapters referring to the present time are entitled simply ‘Present Day’.

By the end of the competition, of the eight protagonists in the Alps at that time, one is missing presumed murdered and one is paraplegic.

The core of the novel is the mystery surrounding the identity of the person responsible for the presumed death – it can only be one of the remaining six.

In the best tradition of Agatha Christie, ten years later, the remaining six are ‘invited’ to a reunion in the ski lodge in the area where the murder occurred.  No one else is present, the lights are unreliable, there is no radio contact with the outside world, and it seems there is unidentified malign presence leaving menacing messages on frosty windows and mirrors.  It is a time for secrets to be disclosed, sexual betrayals to be uncovered, and unresolved tensions to be released – sometimes with violent consequences.

A reader would expect these ingredients to add up to an exciting and suspenseful tale of cat and mouse as the protagonists hunt down the mysterious presence before he/she can kill each one of them.  Sadly, the novel does not consistently live up to its promise.  None of the eight characters is particularly likeable although Curtis and Brent are generally better than the others.  Dale – now married to Heather – seems to be an incipient abuser; Saskia is highly manipulative and dishonest; Julien is a prime example of toxic masculinity; and Milla is competitive to the extreme and some of her actions and words are very damaging to the others.

To compound the difficulty of the reader developing some engagement with the characters, the pre-competition behaviour of the snowboarders would, in most other sports, be called ‘cheating’.  It seems that some snowboarders are not above ‘dropping’ an item on the slope to distract a fellow competitor or kicking another competitor’s snowboard into a crevasse – or even, as Milla does, disclose to one competitor that she slept with that competitor’s girlfriend the night before.

It is of little wonder to the reader that in these circumstances not all the remaining six survive to the end of the story.  While not wanting to draw the comparison with Agatha Christie too far, for the astute reader there are hints of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in the dénouement.

What the author does do well is capture the context in which these events took place.  As a retired snowboarder, the author is well-placed to describe in simple terms the complexities and nuances of snowboarding.  Terms such as ‘pipe’ and ‘half-pipe’, ‘back hand grabbing’, ‘Indies’ and ‘Cripplers’ are used authentically and their use contributes much to the verisimilitude of the snowboarding competition.

For a reader who is seeking a good read with a frisson of sexual tension and some suspense, Shiver is a reasonable place to start.  There is sufficient momentum and excitement to hold the reader until the end even if she/he may not especially care for the characters.

Allie Reynolds is a former professional freestyle snowboarder who spent five winters in the mountains of France, Switzerland, Austria and Canada.  Her short fiction has been published internationally.  Allie now lives in Queensland.

Shiver

[2021]

by Allie Reynolds

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 0 7336 4490 0

$32.99; 425pp

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