Monday, January 8, 2018

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

* * * 1/2

The ship has been like a world within itself, a vast floating city outside of normal rules. But the longer the journey continues, the more confined it is starting to feel, deck upon deck, passenger upon passenger, all of them churning around each other without anywhere to go...

1939: Europe is on the brink of war when young Lily Shepherd boards an ocean liner in Essex, bound for Australia. She is ready to start anew, leaving behind the shadows in her past. The passage proves magical, complete with live music, cocktails, and fancy dress balls. With stops at exotic locations along the way—Naples, Cairo, Ceylon—the voyage shows Lily places she’d only ever dreamed of and enables her to make friends with those above her social station, people who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.

But Lily soon realizes that she’s not the only one hiding secrets. Her newfound friends—the toxic wealthy couple Eliza and Max; Cambridge graduate Edward; Jewish refugee Maria; fascist George—are also running away from their pasts. As the glamour of the voyage fades, the stage is set for something sinister to occur. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and Lily’s life will be changed irrevocably.

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

Dangerous Crossing hearkens back to the 1900's, a time when social class dictated one's standing in life, when the world still felt so expansive with much yet to be discovered and when secrets could irrevocably destroy someone. The language and voice in third person definitely creates that old world atmosphere as a young girl full of potential boards a ship that will take her to her new life in Australia. 

The first thing I noticed was that reading Dangerous Crossing was kind of like reading an Agatha Christie novel. I loved Agatha Christie as a teenager where I'd try so desperately and failed each time to analyze as best I could and deduce who the villain was before the final reveal. I found myself doing the same here. The plot does start out slowly to introduce all the players who come from different social classes, and under normal circumstances wouldn't have any reason to mingle with each other to the extent that they do on this ship. The drama and curious behaviours kick in later; by that time I was fully invested in all the happenings and anxious to get to the climactic event. 

Reading this was also a challenge for me as Lily's backstory and POV can be a hard perspective to grasp for today's female reader who isn't subjected to the social and gender constraints of that time. Every time I felt myself irked by something along those lines I had to remind myself that this was the 1930's and I was in Lily's shoes so I had to embrace all of that. Yet even when she was conflicted about her interactions with the opposite sex, she was decisive and maintained independent thought about other social issues. At a time when fascism had gained momentum and Germany was close to invading Poland, Lily even with her limited real world experience showed remarkable astuteness when it came to judging character. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that some of the social and political elements in the book have their own parallels with today's current events.

I felt so content when I finished Dangerous Crossing. I liked its steady pacing and that the ending was equal parts bitter and promising. More so than a mystery, it's a study in human nature and it's a character-driven story that had me sitting forward with eager interest. 

~ Bel

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