Helter Skelter (by Della Galton)

Della Galton is one of my favourite short-story writers. She regularly features in women’s magazines and has published some collections too. Her plotting is excellent, she creates believable characters, and she often uses humour. She has also written some excellent books about writing, which I have found extremely helpful, and I was privileged to attend one of her workshops last year.

However, although she has published a few novels I had not previously read any of them. So I was pleased to be given ‘Helter Skelter’ for my birthday last year, and finally picked it up to read about ten days ago. The story is about Vanessa, a young woman who used to work in a fairground. We learn right at the beginning that she gave birth to a stillborn baby six years previously, and is still grieving; however she split up with the baby’s father, and is married to a wealthy, if rather dull businessman.

Conflict begins when Vanessa receives a letter; she argues with her husband, and then, hoping to reach some kind of amicable agreement, sees something that shocks her - and triggers her to get in touch with her old fairground friends whom she has not seen since she left her former boyfriend Garrin.

The plot is well crafted. Although the inevitable outcome is fairly predictable, there are developments that I was not expecting and it makes a good read. I found Vanessa quite believable, if absurdly naive at times; her husband turns out to be a manipulative control freak, and while this is hinted at in the early chapters, she seems entirely unaware of his dark side, and far too trusting. I would have expected somebody raised in a fairground to be rather more streetwise.

Garrin is believable too; his main passion is horses, and he’s quite abrupt, even rude at times when his impatience is triggered. Yet he has a softer side that few people are aware of. He’s not the kind of person who appeals to me but he has a deep friendship with Vanessa, going back to their childhood. I liked Izzy as well, the older woman who brought Vanessa up; she’s now quite frail, but still has a lot of wisdom. There are some other likeable minor characters who helped to flesh out the novel, and who worked well.

On the other hand, I found it very difficult to believe in Vanessa’s husband, and the other ‘villain’ of the piece. They didn’t seem to have any redeeming features, but there was no indication as to what motivated them to their unpleasantness. I found it hard to be emotionally involved in most of the conflict.

Also on the less positive side, I found some of the conversation a bit stilted, which surprised me. I also felt at times as if I were being ‘educated’ rather too much about horses and show jumping, topics in which I have no interest whatsoever. I’m sure the research was thorough and the writing realistic, but most of the time this information wasn’t relevant to the story. The other thing that bugged me was the detailed ‘intimate’ scene - something that happens in so many women’s fiction books these days, but which then makes them unsuitable to recommend to young teenage friends (and some of my adult friends) who might otherwise enjoy them.

Still, it’s a good story overall and the ending was entirely satisfactory.

Currently available in paperback, and also, inexpensively, for the Kindle.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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