I was very excited to receive an early copy of A Dangerous Crossing, the first novel by Rachel Rhys. Rachel Rhys is the pen name of Tammy Cohen who of course is well known for writing psychological suspense novels. In A Dangerous Crossing, the reader is taken on an unforgettable journey aboard a passenger ship, one which is inspired by a true story.
‘There is something about the woman that chills him. Something more than the rumours if what she is supposed to have done.’
The opening of this novel is certainly an intriguing one. It begins with a woman being escorted from a ship by policeman in Sydney, Australia, the climax of an eventful journey. But who is this woman? And what has happened aboard the ship for her to be removed in such a way? From this point the story switches back to July 1939 at the start of the journey, as we see a young woman named Lily Shepherd leave her family behind to find work as a maid in Australia, signalling the start of a new life, and new beginnings. And so she sets off from England aboard the Orontes, and finds herself immersed in a new world onboard the glamorous ocean liner, where new experiences and discoveries await, and new friendships will be formed. But as Lily makes more acquaintances onboard the ship, it is clear that not everyone is as they seem, and many people on the trip are escaping from something, including Lily herself.
‘But the longer the journey continues, the more confined it is starting to feel, deck upon deck, passenger upon passenger, all of them churning around each other without anywhere to go.’
I really enjoyed this story and liked the idea of this group of characters confined to a ship in which they struggle to hold onto their secrets, with rumours and gossip rife amongst the passengers. Lily finds herself in varied company, and this story also explores matters of social status and the attitudes of that time. These include wealthy couple Max and Eliza Campbell who seem happy to socialise with passengers in the tourist class, but for what reason? We also meet Helena Fletcher and her brother Edward, who is a mysterious character, along with a young Jewish woman named Maria who is desperate for news of her family. As Lily’s eyes are opened to new experiences, onboard gossip leads her to question her allegiances, and leaves her keen to find out the stories behind her new companions and just what it is that they are running away from. There is certainly a classic mystery feel to the writing with plenty of secrets and drama to uncover along the way. And with the threat of war looming in the background there was a sense of unease on and off the Orontes. I also enjoyed the writing which effectively evoked the sense of time and place particularly regarding the culture and fashions of this time. This was an atmospheric story which I became fully immersed in, and I was interested to discover on finishing the book that this was inspired by real diary entries from a young woman who made the trip to Australia in the 1930’s. For me, this made the story of Lily’s journey even more interesting and compelling.
‘Life, it seems to her now, teeters always on the edge of an abyss, and happiness is so fragile it can break apart in the air for the wind to disperse,’
A Dangerous Crossing is a gripping story of love, loss and secrets in a Europe on the brink of war. Rachel Rhys has created a fascinating cast of characters whose individual stories kept me hooked, eager to find out more about them and the events building up to a drama that makes one woman’s journey an unforgettable one.
A Dangerous Crossing is to be published on 23rd March 2017 by Doubleday. Many thanks to Alison Barrow for providing a proof copy for review.