The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

ARC Review: ‘Dear Amy’ by Helen Callaghan

on June 9, 2016

I received a digital ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Dear Amy. Helen Callaghan. Penguin UK – Michael Joseph.

Release date. 16th June 2016.

Margot Lewis is the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner. Her advice column, Dear Amy, gets all kinds of letters – but none like the one she’s just received:

‘Dear Amy,
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery’

Bethan Avery has been missing for years. This is surely some cruel hoax. But, as more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. How is this happening? Answering this question will cost Margot everything . .

First of all, a huge thank you to Penguin and Netgalley for providing me with a digital ARC of this book!

When I saw this title floating around Netgalley, I knew I had to request it – I’m a huge psychological thriller fan, and the premise of this one sounded original and right up my street!

The novel follows Margot, a school teacher who also writes an advice column for the local newspaper (under the pseudonym ‘Amy’.) One day, Margot receives a disturbing ‘help me’ type letter from someone claiming to be Bethan Avery, a local girl who went missing 20 years ago. Margot naturally assumes the letter is a hoax (because how could Bethan have posted the letter if she’s still being held captive?)… but then another letter arrives. And another. And Margot can’t ignore the feeling in the pit of her stomach that these letters *are* from Bethan Avery, even though it seems impossible.

The story unfolds in two strands. Firstly, we have Margot’s narrative, where she tells the story of taking the letter to the police, and becoming swept up in their investigation as they (reluctantly) decide to reopen the cold case of Bethan’s kidnap. The second strand follows Katie, a pupil of Margot’s, who goes missing at the beginning of the novel, and whose disappearance Margot believes could be connected with the Bethan Avery case.

Overall, I enjoyed the Katie sections of the book the most, because I felt there was more urgency to them. Everything happened in real-time present tense, and I felt everything Katie was feeling… the confusion, the tension, the unending dread of what might be around the next corner.

Margot’s narrative was written in the past tense, which for me slowed the pace down somewhat, but I was hooked by the mystery, so it didn’t prevent me from racing through the book! I did, however, find that the tense would slip quite frequently in Margot’s sections – we would suddenly jump to present tense in the middle of a paragraph, which made the reading experience a bit choppy at times. Another thing I found slightly jarring was how Margot would drop unnecessarily wordy adjectives like ‘purgatorial’ and ‘pusillanimous’ into otherwise simple sentences; they felt a little out of place. These things aside, I was still very gripped by Margot’s story!

I liked Margot as a character because she had personality – she stood up for herself, she had interests outside of the investigation (I enjoyed the way her love of classical mythology was weaved into her narrative), and she had a colourful backstory I was excited to learn more about (nuns are involved in said backstory… doesn’t that sound intriguing?!) It was refreshing to be able to get a firm sense of Margot’s character, as I find a lot of psychological thrillers neglect characterisation in favour of plot.

We meet a whole host of characters as Margot becomes more deeply embroiled in the case, and I liked how uneasy I was made to feel around everyone Margot interacted with. Every single person Margot met came across as at-least-a-little-bit-shady, and I didn’t feel I could place my trust in anyone – I even felt uncomfortable when Margot let the police into her house!

One of best things about Helen Callaghan’s writing in this novel was her creation of a genuinely creepy atmosphere. As the investigation gained precedence, things took a dangerous turn, and I was more and more worried for Margot’s safety with every page I turned. This is the kind of novel which will leave you paranoid when it’s getting dark and your curtains are still wide open – you’ll want to lock all your doors and turn on all the lights!

It’s hard to talk too much about the plot, because it’s a twisty one, and revealing the smallest detail could give the game away. What I will say is that this novel started out like most psychological thrillers, and I thought I’d clocked straight away what was going on, but the story ended up taking a completely unexpected direction. Those more savvy than me *may* guess the twist, but I was genuinely shocked and thought the whole thing was pretty genius!

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel – the concept was original, and the ending surprised the hell out of me! I look forward to reading more of Helen Callaghan’s thrillers.


17 responses to “ARC Review: ‘Dear Amy’ by Helen Callaghan

  1. Fatima @ NoteablePad says:

    Amazing review Jess! I saw this book on NetGalley, but wasn’t sure if I should give it a read. This review has convinced me it’s definitely worth it. I really like shocking twists! I feel like you can really experience all the emotions in this one too. I must ask, have you read any Agatha Christie?

    • mudandstars says:

      Ahh thank you so much 😀 It’s definitely worth it twist wise – the only thing I will say is that the writing style was a bit choppy, but once I got into the book I didn’t notice it as much. I love twisty books too 🙂 I actually have never read any Agatha Christie, although my Granddad was a massive fan of her books – there’s an old suitcase full of about 80 books at my Granny’s house, and I recently borrowed a few of them but haven’t started them yet. Which ones would you recommend? 🙂

      • Fatima @ NoteablePad says:

        I’ve only read one 😛 but I’d 100% recommend it: And Then There Were None is SO good! It’ll have you guessing to the last page. 🙂

      • mudandstars says:

        Oooh, I watched the BBC adaptation of And Then There Were None over Christmas – it was fantastic! Very creepy and atmospherically done. I’d like to read the book, and some more of her work – there are so many, it’s hard to know where to start haha 🙂

      • Fatima @ NoteablePad says:

        Definitely. I haven’t watched the BBC adaptation, but I’ve heard it’s great! Of course, as you already know the ending, it might be better to read another one. I still need to read the other books too 😀

  2. Ashleigh says:

    Oooh this sounds interesting, I might have to check it out. Especially since I’m slowly becoming more interested in psychological thriller type stories! Great review 😀

    • mudandstars says:

      Thanks Ashleigh 🙂 Hope you enjoy the book if you decide to check it out! And if you are getting into psychological thrillers at the moment, I would really recommend checking out Mark Edwards’ books – the first one I read is called The Magpies and it was the book that got me hooked on this genre 🙂 All of his other books have been awesome too!

  3. Donna says:

    I have been curious about this book since I saw its cover a few weeks back. I really like the synopsis. A friend mentioned in her review the fact that in our era, it is quite uncommon to send letters these days, and that emails are much more common. It’s been bugging me ever since. But I still really want to read it. I love unexpected twists that change the whole direction of the book. Great review!

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! 😀 That’s a very good point about the letters! I think this is one of those books that you just have to suspend disbelief for haha. It did make sense in the end. I hope you enjoy the book – unexpected twists are my favourite, I think that’s why I love this genre so much.

  4. I’m so glad to see that you ended up liking the book! I had my fingers crossed, haha! ❤

    • mudandstars says:

      Haha, thanks! 🙂 Yeah I was a bit worried to start with, with the weird tense thing! I think it was more prominent at the beginning, although it did crop up throughout the book. I wonder if it was just an error, but you would think that that would have been spotted already. I’m glad the book turned out to be so gripping otherwise that would have frustrated me way too much!

  5. […] Claire Liam Analee Joey Nicola Book Club Mom Jess Ashley Arec Jane Melanie Sarah & Faith Sammie Emily & you if you wish! Feel free to ignore […]

  6. Sourin Ghosh says:

    Wow really interesting story and great premise.

    Sent from my iPhone


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