Dead Letters - Caite Dolan-Leach

Before I get into the story, I’d like to talk about helping a book find its audience. When I read the publicity blurb & saw it listed under Mystery/Thriller I thought oh goody, this is for me. Sadly it was not but through no fault of the author. Instead, I think it’s the victim of a poor choice in marketing which may lead to it being passed over by readers who enjoy family sagas & disappointment for those looking for a good thriller.


The story centres around 25 year old twins Ava & Zelda. They grew up on a vineyard near Ithaca in one of the most dysfunctional families you’ll come across, fictional or otherwise. Ava escaped to Paris for grad school but now finds herself flying home to attend her sister’s funeral. She’s told Zelda died in a barn fire but from the time she receives the news, Ava has her doubts.


And with reason. She is soon on an alphabetical treasure hunt fed by clues Zelda left for her. It’s a clever device & ultimately, what saved the book for me. Without it, you’re left in the company of 4 alcoholics who never tire of sniping & wounding each other through booze soaked dialogue. Rest assured, none of them would be candidates for “Up with People”.


Each is fuelled by a bitter disappointment in how life has treated them, a situation not helped by having a wine store in their backyard. Only Ava has managed to secure a glimmer of something better but struggles to overcome the lingering affects of her childhood.


When a book has a large cast, having one or two unpleasant characters adds some spice & conflict to the story. If it’s set on a small stage & all are unlikable, you risk readers not caring enough about the characters to become invested in their outcome. This is not a thriller & there’s little mystery so I confess I grew tired of the constant back-biting & just found them sad.


Again, not the author’s fault. She possesses a formidable vocabulary & knows how to use it. There’s a definite Southern Gothic feel to the story & Ava’s hunt for clues is an original feature that adds interest to the plot. It’s more a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. We’ve all come across books whose only issue is they don’t appeal to that ethereal thing called your personal preference.


So don’t take my word for it. There are many glowing reviews for this book & I think if they dropped the Mystery/Thriller label & marketed it under just General Fiction or Women’s Fiction, it would find the target audience it richly deserves.