Four Steps is Wendy Hudson’s first novel and it’s a cracker. A slow burn romance with a threatening undercurrent of slow burn thriller, where we, the reader, can see the two plots building, but the protagonists and storylines are totally separate.
The prologue is stunning, tense and terrible. It sets up the history, but also leaves us guessing. Hudson then cleverly drops the thriller; it’s a historical foot-note to Alex’s character, but with little current import. Over time we learn more, see more, and know there is more to come. Hudson keeps us guessing and builds the tension with consummate ease.
The story then becomes a much more simple and traditional romance; girl meets girl, except one is straight and both are damaged. Their family histories take a long time to emerge, but we can see from the start how both women have locked themselves away, chosen the solitude of the hills as an escape from the expectations of a social life. Their interaction is light, playful and fun against a backdrop of dramatic scenery, unhappy pasts and damaged hearts. The solitary nature of Munro bagging reflects the visible and not so visible tenet of their chosen lives.
The characters are exceptionally well drawn. They have deep and well-constructed pasts, complex emotions, and multi-layered relationships with those around them. For a first time author the portrayal of the main characters, not just our protagonists but also their best friends, is extremely well done. Even the dog is a strong personality. On the darker side Hudson draws out the menacingly evil nature of the main baddie and at the same time develops the dementia-ike ramblings and wanderings of an old man with outstanding pathos and empathy.
As the two plot lines build and increasingly intertwine, the thriller comes back to the fore and we can see the denouement build. The story arcs are well thought through and show the potential of an accomplished storyteller. There was a small unexplained hole for me; why he had waited so long and left his ultimate target until it was almost too late, and why the local cops don’t call out. It doesn’t spoil the story, but the small rationals sometimes make the plot flow.
Despite that small bump this is a well done, enjoyable and finely developed plot with complex, lovable characters, stunning scenery and an absolutely great first novel. I can’t wait to see what Ms Hudson comes up with next. When you start with something this good she is definitely going to be one to watch.
(publisher review copy received)
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