Helen Callaghan’s debut novel Dear Amy is one hell of a ride. Callaghan writes from the perspective of Margot, a teacher at the local college and also the writer of the Dear Amy help column in the local paper. Typically she deals with mundane relationship issues until one day she receives a letter from Bethan Avery, a young girl who went missing twenty years earlier and presumed dead, begging her for help. This throws Margot into a spin; why, of all people, has Bethan decided to contact her? And wasn’t she supposed to be dead? They did find a piece of nightgown with her blood on it after all. At the same time Bethan is writing to the Dear Amy column, another young girl, Katie, is also kidnapped. Katie was a student in one of Margot’s classes, so Margot feels it is up to her to find Bethan Avery and in turn, find Katie. The letters keep coming so Margot decides to contact the police. This is where the novel turns from a drama into a twisted thriller.
Dear Amyl has loads of twists and incredibly well-developed characters. Because Callaghan writes in the first person, we not only get inside Margot’s head but also get to witness the kidnapping of Katie. Callaghan takes a brave leap and writes from the perspective of the kidnapper as well, which makes for a rather sickening, disturbing, eerie and down-right confronting chapter. We discover his reasoning for kidnapping Bethan and Katie, the way he follows the girls and is convinced they are infatuated with him. But when they fail to notice him, he feels the need to punish the girls and turn them into his dream girlfriend. It is a chapter which will make you sit up and take notice of those around you, make you double-think about who you have been talking to and re-visit the New Zealand cases of girls who have gone missing. Callaghan writes with such clarity and rawness that you have no choice but to keep reading, while feeling helpless at not being able to help Bethan and Katie but also feeling violated because it is like he is talking about you.
My only concern for the novel is that the plot twist happens early on. While you won’t see it coming, and yes it does help for the rest of the novel to fall into place, I felt as if I could almost put the book down not knowing how it ends. But at the same time, the twist picks up the plot and completely throws it off course to a point where it could almost be an entirely different novel.
If you love thrillers and suspense then this is a novel for you. It delivers everything you could ever want plus a little bit extra.