Shiver, by Allie Reynolds, is a thriller based around the competitive world of snowboarding – a sport the author trained for at the highest levels. Set high up in the avalanche prone French Alps, it focuses on a group of elite athletes who get together for a weekend reunion a decade after events that changed the course of their careers. The timeline moves between then and now, offering the reader insights into the complex relationships that form when friends and lovers are also rivals professionally. The killer instinct required to succeed can be harnessed literally.
The narrator is Milla, a young women driven to prove herself but never quite able to be as good as she needs to be to attract the kudos and sponsorship that would enable her to fully fund her obsession. In the early timeline she travels to Le Rocher to spend the Alpine winter training for the British championships in the freestyle halfpipe event – still a relatively new Olympic sport at the time. Here she meets the woman she needs to beat – Saskia Sparkes – who proves as icy and dangerous as the slopes on which they compete.
Saskia’s older brother, Curtis, is an established champion snowboarder. His friend and nearest rival is Brent, who has a history with Saskia. Also at the reunion are Dale and Heather – now married. All harbour secrets linked to Saskia’s disappearance. She has recently been pronounced dead in absentia having not been seen since the day of the competition.
The reunion quickly turns out to be a complex ruse but none of the attendees will admit to having organised it – nor know anything of the way they are being played. Trust between the group is in short supply, with everyone blaming the others when events turn threatening. Phones disappear preventing communication with staff who could operate the cable lift that brought them there, and will be needed if they are to leave safely. Trapped in a building high up near a glacier where deadly crevices can send the unwary plummeting to their death, tension mounts as accusations fly.
I found the earlier timeline – the story of the group when they were training for the championship – more interesting than the reunion. Although there is an obvious attempt to build on the claustrophobia of the situation, the constant and recurring unknowns became irritating – a device rather than a tightly woven tale. Expectation was overblown leaving truths, when finally revealed, deflating what should have come across as horrific.
The portrayal of athletes at the top of their game was shocking to consider, although sadly believable. Drive and ambition can create men and women who focus on their own needs above anything else. These young people put their lives on the line to win, seemingly unaware of how shallow and transitory their achievements appear to those outside the bubble of their chosen specialism. The highs described brought to mind drug addiction – the desire to succeed the pitiless means employed to acquire the hit.
I was bemused by the presumption that talented sportsmen will be good in bed – they may have confidence but such success goes hand in hand with a degree of selfishness. Competitiveness in all manner of interactions was far from friendly, leaving me questioning if professional athletes are really so mean minded. What it takes for them to win – determination and ruthlessness, to self as well as others – made me ponder if they ever look ahead, to what follows their peak. With decades still to live do they condemn themselves to disappointment when they cannot relive the success they strove so hard to achieve? The cost is not just theirs to bear.
It is not necessary to like characters to enjoy a story, and readers interested in snowboarding may well find this worth reading for the details on tricks and spins, functional aids and equipment. Relationships between the characters were well evoked in the earlier timeline. It was events of a decade later that too quickly became tedious. There are only so many locked doors and power cuts that can be employed as tension builders before they become repetitive.
A thriller that I did not find thrilling, although I chose to read to the end to find out what had happened. The denouement offered a reasonably well structured finale but one that then took a turn that did not fit with how the character got there. Perhaps this is a story better suited to those who understand the need to take risks in order to feel alive. A much hyped book that was not for me.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.