Dead Letters: A Novel by Caite Dolan-Leach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I would put this book at right around 3.5 stars. It’s a intense story which kept me reading, but much like “The Good Daughter,” “Dead Letters” had some flaws.
But overall, I did like this book, and I enjoyed guessing to see if I could figure it out (I didn’t). It kept me plenty entertained, for sure.
The story revolves around Ava Antipova, who comes from an incredibly dysfunctional family of alcoholics (including her father who left the family and started again and her mother who was diagnosed with Lewey Body Dementia and is barely able to grasp reality at times), who own a vineyard in upstate New York. She has been in Paris for the past 20 months when she gets word that her estranged twin, Zelda, has died in a barn fire. When she arrives home, not only does it come out that the fire is being labeled as “suspicious,” but her sister may have faked her death. She must follow clues Zelda left for her to find out whether her sister is dead or alive, and why she had to resort to such a drastic measure.
Some reviewers have said it’s more of a “family drama” than a mystery/thriller, so they felt let down or mislead. While this novel really is a family drama on a basic level, there is a mystery right at its core – is Zelda alive or dead? – that I think pushes it over the edge into mystery/thriller territory. I was hooked on trying to figure in out, and the author does a great job of keeping up the suspense. I flipped my opinion with each passing chapter: “No she’s definitely dead….No way, she’s alive!…..Are you kidding me? She’s dead!”
I also loved that it was set in Watkins Glen! I live about 40 minutes away, and love visiting there – and the author really gave an accurate depiction of the region, IMO.
My main issues with the book were that I really didn’t like any of the Antipovas. Like, I actively hated each of them at some point. In the book, Ava admits that all four members of the family are alcoholics, but while she can acknowledge that, she doesn’t do anything about it, so the novel is essentially like watching an alcoholic friend destroy themselves slowly while they refuse to get help. It was frustrating. For girls that seemed to have so much potential, both sisters were completely unlivable in their own ways, and I found myself rooting for the whole damn vineyard to burn down; it was probably what was best for all of them.
Also, the ending sucked. It really did. Without spoiling it, it raised more questions than answers. While the Zelda puzzle is solved, not much else is. I actually had to reread the last chapter because I came up with a new question and thought I missed something.
Basically, if you like reading a good mystery, this one is good. You’ll enjoy trying to figure it out. But if you are looking for character development or redeeming endings, they’re not here.
View all my reviews