★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (8/10)
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: The Weekend Away is a mystery/thriller novel that was written by Sarah Alderson and released by Avon/Harper 360 books. (The Kindle edition is available right now; the paperback, at least in the US, shows a release for April 2021 but may be out sooner.) Alderson is the author of such novels as The Sound and Hunting Lila, and has also written contemporary modern fiction as Mila Gray. The tagline for this novel reads, “Two friends go on holiday. Only one comes back.”
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: Orla is about to go on her first weekend away with her oldest friend, Kate, after giving birth to her daughter nine months before. It’s the first time she’s leaving baby Marlow alone with her husband, Rob, and while she’s anxious about being so far away from her family, she’s excited to have a weekend away with her best friend of more than 20 years.
Once upon a time, Orla and Kate had vowed to save one weekend a year to travel to some exotic foreign location together – the type of promise made by young, naive friends, Orla assumes. This was before she and Rob spent years trying to conceive via IVF and failing, until miracle Marlow came along…and before Kate married a man she’s now desperately trying to divorce and forget, in spectacular fashion. It’s been years since they took one of their trips, but now they’re in gorgeous Lisbon, in an apartment – with a view and a hot tub – that seems too good to be true. What could go wrong?
I found this storyline refreshing and different from many of the cookie-cutter thrillers out there now; having it take place in a foreign city, with only strangers to aid Orla, and with very few clues, made it a definite page-turner.”
To Orla’s shock and dismay, their first night together includes a late-night dinner, drugs, a trip to a bar, and – to her utter horror – Kate insisting they bring two gorgeous single men back home with them. Suddenly drunker than she’s ever been – despite having only had a little to drink – Kate has no defenses, and the men escort them back to the apartment. The next thing Orla knows, it’s mid-afternoon the next day…and Kate has disappeared.
The only thing worse than having a friend go missing is having it happen in a foreign country on a weekend trip…and having to try to convince the authorities to take Kate’s disappearance seriously. Orla is overwhelmed with confusion, and doubt, and a black hole where her memories of Friday night should be. Who can she trust in this strange place? And who is lying to her? As she spirals further into the mystery and her own rogue investigation, trying to figure out what happened to Kate, she leads herself further and further into danger – and, possibly, directly into the trap of a potential murderer.
MY THOUGHTS: This was my first novel by Alderson, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would categorize this as a guilty-pleasure read, and a fast-paced one at that. It’s not a genre-bending or envelope-pushing type of story; you won’t find a social message or soliloquy on injustice in this novel. This is for fans of twisty and juicy mystery stories like those told by BJ Paris, or Shari Lapena, or maybe Ruth Ware (God help us) – but well-written.
There’s always something extra dark and creepy about the thought of a loved one disappearing while you’re vacationing in a foreign country. Things and places are unfamiliar, systems are structured differently, and having authorities take the disappearance of a tourist seriously seems like an uphill battle no one would ever want to take on. If anyone reading this is from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark generation, like myself, you might remember a particularly haunting story about a mother and daughter vacationing in a foreign land, and she woke up one morning to find her mother completely gone – vanished without a trace. When she asked the hotel employees about her mother, they told her no one else had checked in with her…and when everyone who’d seen them together refused to admit that her mother had ever been there, she began to question her own sanity.
In the same way, Orla begins to doubt Kate’s motives, and her own faulty memory on what happened that fateful evening…and the farther along she gets with her investigation, the more it looks like she should have been questioning her friend all along. But who can she trust in Lisbon (and back home, for that matter), and is it possible someone might be working alongside her just to cause her harm in the end?
I admit that the ending is one I vaguely saw coming in the first few chapters, only because the overall motive is very reminiscent to one used in a book I refused to finish a year ago by a popular mystery author I’m not a big fan of (not Ware, you’ll be thrilled to know). However, that did not deter me from continuing with this book at all, because the twists and turns the story took were very entertaining and did not solidify what I’d guessed until the very last couple of pages. I found this storyline refreshing and different from many of the cookie-cutter thrillers out there now; having it take place in a foreign city, with only strangers to aid Orla, and with very few clues, made it a definite page-turner.
This is absolutely a thriller I’d recommend to any fan of the genre, especially if you’re tired of the typical plotline and are looking for more international intrigue. And I’m happy to say that while I skimmed the book again page-by-page for a detailed plot review, I was intrigued and amused to see many hints that I’d never have picked up on without knowing the ending – which is not something I think I’ve ever said about a mystery story before. (Usually I see every single red herring and “hidden-but-obvious” clue with a 97% precision rate. Just guessing.)