Gollancz, 320pp standard hardback, £16.99 cover price
£8.99 on Kindle (not released in hardback ‘til 18th Feb 2016)
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
It’ll come as no surprise to many that Sarah Pinborough happens to be quite high on my ‘I like her stuff’ list – indeed, I cited her, Joe Abercrombie and Freda Warrington as some of my fave writers in an interview here, and still put her The Language of Dying as one of my all-time favourite (very short) novels. So… naturally, her latest release, 13 Minutes, was bound to be a hit with me, surely? Actually, yes, but indulge me a wee bit longer…
13 Minutes tells the story of Natasha Howland, a high-school girl who was rescued from a river after having been technically dead in the water for… you guessed it, 13 minutes. Written for the most part in first person, and largely from the point of view of her former friend, Rebecca Crisp (aka Becca) – we’re talking former friend in the sense that Becca and Natasha used to be best buds (BFFs?) before Natasha shifted allegiances to ‘new’ friends Jenny and Hayley – the first half of this rolls along predictably enough. Alongside visits to her hospital bedside and the occasional short chapter of txt speak (exchanges of SMS text messages between Jenny and Hayley), we also get to read case files related to Natasha’s notebook, her consultation interview with the Doctor, some newspaper extracts, a few chapters giving us a feel for the school gossip, and even a few chapters from the POV of Natasha herself. The majority of all this suggests an open and shut case… but of course, this is Ms Pinborough we’re talking about, and soon enough things start to go off-kilter with the occasional hiccup here and small aside there which begs one more question, or maybe a quick re-read to double-check that you just read that bit correctly, etc. And this is where this tale starts to cling to you like yesterday’s pyjamas, and it’s also at this point that you’re well and truly sucked into the narrative (and like as not haven’t bothered changing out of your clothes/pyjamas for fear of putting this book down) and… well, I’d go so far as to suggest that it reminded me very much of some of Stephen King’s earlier stuff, but I know Sarah would go batshit-crazy if I say that…
Although it’s being marketed as her first YA thriller (nope, I’m not going to try and define YA here), and is carried along by the rekindling of Becca’s BFF relationship with Natasha, together with all the associated angst and peer pressure of school-life, boyfriends, gossip, best friends, etc. it’s also a beautifully swift read in its own right, and the numerous twists and turns that lead inexorably to the shocking finale are well executed; in particular the variety of ‘alternative’ chapters (newspaper stories, txt speak entries, journal extracts, interview excerpts, etc.) do a cracking job of roping you in from the beginning.
Heaven forbid, some may find the end a bit unsatisfying, but they obviously haven’t read enough of Sarah’s work to know better. Highly recommended reading, and definitely worth seeking this out wherever you can lay your hands on it. Well done, Sarah!