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Breathless by Amy McCulloch


Every so often there is a book that comes along and completely takes you by surprise. A book that is engaging, entertaining, beautifully written and keeps you hanging on to the very end. This is certainly a book that can be firmly placed in that file. McCulloch’s Breathless follows the adventures of Cecily, a journalist given the formidable task of interviewing a maverick and enigmatic climber, Charles, who only agrees to complete the interview if they both summit one of the most challenging mountains in the Himalayas.


As one would imagine from a multi awarded novelist, and also a Sunday Times Crime book of the month winner, things don’t go to plan. There are unexplained deaths on the mountain and, as Cecily finds out, the answers are a web of events that seem to close further and further in on her. McCulloch tears into the action and takes the narrative by the horn as the reader is immersed into the dangerous and fascinating world of adventure climbing - with the constant threat of murder, deceit and ego.


It will take all of Cecily’s deduction skills and alliances to solve what may well be the biggest story of her life - if she can keep herself alive. The adventure certainly has high stakes, with so many people seemingly against her achieving the feat of ascending this formidable mountain.


As much as this is a thrilling read, it is also an example of wonderful modern writing. McCulloch’s turn of phrase is clear and effective prose with just enough dialogue to keep the reader engaged without bombarding them with page after page of mindless conversation - a trick becoming increasingly common. Characterisation is at the heart of her writing, demonstrably constructing these three dimensional characters that are both complex, and relatable.


A good who-dun-it deserves a few red herrings and some misinterpretation of information, and McCulloch delivers here also. In almost Doyle or even Christie fashion, McCulloch ekes out the drama to the nth degree, making the reader guess, hope and accuse with scraps of evidence garnered along the journey. The masterstroke, of course, is setting the action on such a wild and unforgivable climate as the treacherous slopes of some of the highest mountains in the world. Certainly this adds to the intensity of the narrative.


Overall, there really is so much to appreciate and enjoy in this novel. A real page-turner in the maintenance of high drama and action, yet also so beautifully crafted and constructed in its word choice and development. It is a wonderful thing to immerse oneself in the imagined world of the writer, and in this case McCulloch produces one of the best in a long time. Breathless is a highly recommended text that delivers on nearly every front.


Reviewer: Chris Reed

Michael Joseph Ltd