Recommendation Rating: ★★★★★ (Buy the book and put it at the top of your queue).
Please familiarize yourself with my rating system before you fire off angry emails.
Either I am a fan of British authors, or they simply write better stories. This is my second review of a Brit, and my second five-star review. Coincidence? I’ll have to seek out a couple more to see if it holds up.
Story/Plot: Anything for Her is the story of a family dealing with more problems than any family should ever have to deal with. A father, Michael, who is currently facing jail time for insider trading, is also having an affair – with his wife’s sister. His wife, Louise, and daughter, Brooke, share a dark secret that could cost them their lives, yet they are determined to take it to their graves. The story is told through each of their eyes, letting us see the whole picture in a way that none of them can. Small clues appear in the form of frozen birds, Robins, to hint that someone knows Louise and Brooke’s secret, and he is coming for them. A frantic chase ensues, with Louise trying to keep her secret while staying one step ahead of a killer.
Characterization: The characterization in Anything for Her is really very good. It is certainly the best I have seen in an indie book, and better than most mainstream books as well. Each character has their own identity, their own flaws and their own voice. The characters behave in a consistent manner throughout the story and there is never a time when any action seems out of character.
Originality: The story seemed quite original to me. The flow helped pull together a bunch of ideas which, while not particularly unique on their own, made the overall story seem quite original. Letting you learn a bit of the past at a time, sprinkling in clues throughout the present to tie to the past, it all came together in a way that didn’t seem tired or cliché.
Readability: The book was laid out quite well. There a number of centered paragraphs, which seemed oddly out of place, but I believe that was an artistic choice. The biggest readability issue with the book was the use of hyphens. The text appeared to have been manually hyphenated which, of course, makes the hyphens appear completely randomly in digital form. Hundreds of times throughout, you will see a word in the middle of a line: ‘sit-ting’. There were very few grammatical errors though, and I can only recall seeing one out of place word (so when it should have been she).
Engagement: The lowest of my overall scores is for engagement, and is directly attributed to the first third of the book. Throughout the first third of the book, the action moves very slowly. There is some character development, but a lot that isn’t strictly necessary. Phrasing regarding “that night that changed their lives forever” appears every couple of pages, and is a bit off-putting (more on that below). After the first third of the book, the action picks up and such phrasing seems to stop. I’d wager that if you make it through the first 25% of the book, you will definitely finish it.
Some spoilers and other things that stuck in my mind:
The story starts out slow, but after the first third of the book, it really starts coming together. The writing and editing throughout are top-notch, allowing you to focus solely on the action. The story is told quite well overall and the author makes wonderful use of descriptive phrasing to really bring the scenes to life. The characters all also drawn very well, with each primary having their own identity, flaws and voice. The entire story is told in the present tense, even during flashbacks, which can hit the ear wrong at times, but never detracts from the story. Some of the events toward the end are extremely improbable, but the tension is high enough that I was able to suspend my disbelief and make it through. Overall, it was a very enjoyable, highly recommended read.
My issues with the story are all fairly minor. With the exception of the unbelievability of the car crash, it’s probably me just nit-picking.
Firstly, the Epilogue was absolutely unnecessary and I really think that it takes away from the story. I didn’t let that sway my score since it wasn’t strictly part of the story, but I really think having the killer detail his motives so very specifically takes away the reader’s ability to paint the killer as whatever type of monster they are afraid of. You should already know everything that the killer says anyway. Such as his admission that he had approached Louise during the search. That is something that most readers
will should have guessed at the time.
The issue with repeated phrasing like “that night that changed their lives forever” or “the terrible thing they did that night” almost made me quit reading. As noted in another review, using such phrasing doesn’t do anything to build tension, but comes across as an admission by the author that they believe they have failed to engage you so far. Anything for Her danced dangerously close to that line, but didn’t quite cross it. In my opinion, if much of that phrasing was removed, it would be a much stronger story early on. Readers aren’t stupid. If you mention the event once, we know that you are going to tell us about it, we don’t need to be reminded every couple of pages that it is coming.
When we finally learn what happened that night, many of the details are simply unbelievable. When one car, traveling fifty miles per hour, strikes another car, it throws a child from the backseat of the car and completely through the windshield. The windshield of all cars produced since the 1970s is made of safety glass which is specifically designed to not allow this to happen. If you see a rollover accident beside the road, you’ll see a broken up windshield, but there won’t be a hole in it where someone has gone flying out. Further issues with the car crash include the woman who died also being thrown from the car, but having her neck caught in the seat belt, which seems completely unbelievable. A car seat was ripped from the frame and thrown thirty feet through the air… at fifty miles per hour… That the child is still alive, an hour later and a hundred feet down the hill, buried in snow, further pushes the unbelievability of the crash. And when a cigarette butt lights a fire from a pool of gasoline in the snow, we get to full-on bullshit mode. Growing up in Oregon, I tried to start a fire to burn a pile of branches in the snow. Despite pouring a full gallon of gasoline over them and using several books of matches, it just wouldn’t light. If a cigarette but can in fact light gasoline on snow, it must be an exceedingly rare occurrence.