Title: Dead Letters
Author: Caite Dolan-Leach
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Random House
Date of publication: February 28th, 2017
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, General Fiction
POV: 1st person
Number of pages: 353
Where you can find this book: Amazon
A missing woman leads her twin sister on a twisted scavenger hunt in this clever début novel of suspense for readers of Luckiest Girl Alive and Reconstructing Amelia.
Ahoy, Ava! Welcome home, my sweet jet-setting twin! So glad you were able to wrest yourself away from your dazzling life in the City of Light; I hope my death hasn’t interrupted anything too crucial.
Ava Antipova has her reasons for running away: a failing family vineyard, a romantic betrayal, a mercurial sister, an absent father, a mother slipping into dementia. In Paris, Ava renounces her terribly practical undergraduate degree, acquires a French boyfriend and a taste for much better wine, and erases her past. Two years later, she must return to upstate New York. Her twin sister, Zelda, is dead.
Even in a family of alcoholics, Zelda Antipova was the wild one, notorious for her mind games and destructive behavior. Stuck tending the vineyard and the girls’ increasingly unstable mother, Zelda was allegedly burned alive when she passed out in the barn with a lit cigarette. But Ava finds the official explanation a little too neat. A little too Zelda. Then she receives a cryptic message from her sister.
Just as Ava suspected, Zelda’s playing one of her games. In fact, she’s outdone herself, leaving a series of clues about her disappearance. With the police stuck on a red herring, Ava follows the trail laid just for her, thinking like her sister, keeping her secrets, immersing herself in Zelda’s drama and her outlandish circle of friends and lovers. Along the way, Zelda forces her twin to confront their twisted history and the boy who broke Ava’s heart. But why? Is Zelda trying to punish Ava for leaving, or to teach her a lesson? Or is she simply trying to write her own ending?
Featuring a colorful, raucous cast of characters, Caite Dolan-Leach’s début thriller takes readers on a literary scavenger hunt for clues concealed throughout the seemingly idyllic wine country, hidden in plain sight on social media, and buried at the heart of one tremendously dysfunctional, utterly unforgettable family.
Dead Letters is one of those rare mysteries that have you guessing what exactly happened until the end of the book. This book will suck you in while Ava goes on a scavenger hunt that was orchestrated by her twin sister, Zelda. What the scavenger hunt reveals and what it forces Ava to face is what makes this book so good.
This isn’t one of those fun mysteries with likable characters and a happy ending. Not even close. This has to have been one of the saddest, complex books that I have read to date. Ava’s family has to be one of the more dysfunctional ones in all the books that I have read to date.
What I liked about this book was that it truly was a mystery and that the author had no qualms about throwing out red herrings left and right. Just when I thought I had the mystery of what happened to Zelda pegged, the book went in a totally different direction and totally screwed me up. This happened two times and both times, I had to put my Kindle Paperwhite down because the shock just got to me…both times. Well done, Caite, well done.
I was truly on the fence about liking Ava. She came across as so uncaring with her mother, father, and grandmother (but she does have her reasons why) but when it comes to Zelda, the emotions just can’t stop. I do think that the scavenger hunt was maybe a little unfair to Ava but Zelda wanted to make a point. And oh boy, did she.
Marlon and Nadine were detestable as parents. Whenever Ava started to think about her past, all she could think about was how her father was checked out most of the time (and I mean checked out mentally) and how she had to walk on eggshells around her mother. No wonder the girls turned out the way they did.
I also should point out that the author did a great job portraying what living with an alcoholic is like and what growing up as a child of a functioning alcoholic is like and what it is like to be a caregiver to someone with dementia. Not easy subjects to talk or write about but she did it beautifully.
The end of a book was a huge surprise in two ways. Not going to ruin it for anyone but I had to get up and walk around after the 2nd surprise came around. Then I sat down and went “W.T.H.”
How many stars will I give Dead Letters: 4
Why: I really enjoyed reading this book. I couldn’t put it down. I had to find out about what happened to Zelda, why Ava was the way she was and everything else in the book. Truly captivating.
Will I reread: Yes
Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes
Age range: Adult
Why: Language. Also scenes of verbal abuse (which could be triggers in some people), drug use and some mild sex scenes
**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**