REVIEW: Twenty-Seven Minutes by Ashley Tate

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Phoebe Dean was the most popular girl alive and dead.

For the last ten years, the small, claustrophobic town of West Wilmer has been struggling to understand one thing: Why did it take young Grant Dean twenty-seven minutes to call for help on the fateful night of the car accident that took the life of his beloved sister, Phoebe?

Someone knows what really happened the night Phoebe died. Someone who is ready to tell the truth.

With Phoebe’s memorial in just three days, grief, delusion, ambition, and regret tornado together with biting gossip in a town full of people obsessed with a long-gone tragedy with four people at its heart?the caretaker, the secret girlfriend, the missing bad boy, and a former football star. Just kids back then, are forever tied together the fateful rainy night Phoebe died.

Perfect for fans of Jane Harper and Celeste Ng, Tate’s literary suspense Twenty-Seven Minutes is a gripping debut about what happens when grief becomes unbearable and dark secrets are unearthed in a hometown that is all too giddy to eat it up.

Dear Ashley Tate:

This book took me a bit of time to get into; none of the four narrators were compelling and the story didn’t grab me at first. As with most suspense books, it did catch fire for me about halfway through and I was turning the pages quickly after that. Does that mean I liked Twenty-Seven Minutes? Not exactly.

Our narrators are Grant Dean, brother of the dead girl Phoebe; Becca Hoyt, a troubled young woman who shares a secret with Grant; June Delroy, another young woman whose mother has just died of cancer; and Wyatt Delroy, June’s brother returned to town after 10 years gone (he disappeared on the night that Phoebe died).

Interspersed with the narrator chapters are chapters set 10 years back, right before the accident. These are seen from the perspective of various townspeople and focused usually on on of the narrators or on Phoebe.

In the present day, Grant is a depressed, anxious mess; as a high schooler he had a promising future in football, but the accident that killed Phoebe damaged his leg and ruined his prospects. Now he works at a chicken processing plant, drinks heavily and picks up random women, and is stuck living with his mother, who disapproved of him when Phoebe was alive (Phoebe was the golden child) and silently loathes him now.

Becca works at a grocery store and fends off her parents’ concerned entreaties that she consider returning to therapy. She is big mad that no one in West Wilmer seems to care about her or the fact that she was in the accident that killed Phoebe. It quickly becomes clear that she’s delusional about her “relationship” with Grant, among other things.

June seems like a somewhat nicer, though mousier version of Becca – her life is going nowhere, and with her mother’s recent death she’s all alone in the world. She lives in a dilapidated house (if she has a job I’m not sure I ever caught what it was), and is so poor she doesn’t have a car and has to walk a mile to town when she needs something, or borrow her elderly neighbor’s car. With Wyatt’s unexpected return, June becomes interested in finding out what really happened the night that Phoebe died and Wyatt disappeared. Was Wyatt at the high school party that Phoebe, Grant and Becca left together? What was he doing there? Did he and Grant have some sort of conflict?

Finally, we have Wyatt – formerly a town troublemaker and drug dealer, allegedly to Grant. His thoughts and motives remain frustratingly elusive throughout the book; he’s alternately protective of and menacing towards June, and he appears to be suffering from some sort of (possibly fatal?) disease that is taking a toll on his body (he keeps losing teeth, for one thing). Wyatt puts off June’s questions, for what feels like plot purposes more than anything else. He seems intent on confronting Grant at Phoebe’s memorial.

Not a lot happens for much of the book; the characters mostly spin their wheels, wallowing in their misery. It’s clear that everything is heading for a reckoning at the memorial, so a lot of the story before that feels like filler. But I did feel compelled to find out what actually happened, and I appreciated that the revelation, when it occurs, is straightforward, without twenty shocking twists. Actually, much of it was telegraphed and quite obvious, but the one twist actually *did* surprise me, though in retrospect the signs were there, so I’m thinking other readers might guess it earlier on.

What it came down to in my lack of enthusiasm for Twenty Seven Minutes is two things: unlikable characters and a grubby aesthetic. Of the four narrators, only June could be viewed as “probably a good person, more or less.” She’s also a sad-sack, so while I could feel sorry for her, I couldn’t like her. Grant is spiraling – has apparently been slowly spiraling for 10 years – but he’s full of anger and self-pity, and the way he strings Becca along is gross. Speaking of Becca, she’s not the worst of the four, but she is the most irritating. Sure, she’s clearly not well, mentally, but that doesn’t excuse how petty, mean and self-obsessed she is. Wyatt is the most opaque of the four; he seems to have been a troublemaker at one time but mostly seems pathetic at this point.

Pathetic is a fair description of the main four characters, most of the people in West Wilmer, and honestly the town itself. There’s a reason I gravitate towards suspense books set in upper-class London or New York, or at posh universities. As when I primarily read romance, I prefer a bit of glamor in my reading. At the very least I don’t want *everything* to feel both depressed and depressing. This is a personal preference, so it’s not a criticism of the book – the sense of hopelessness, low-grade poverty and the dead-end quality of West Wilmer is well depicted. I just really don’t vibe with any of that at all.

One smallish thing that I felt was a missed opportunity – Phoebe never really came alive for me, and I think that’s important when you have a story that centers around a dead character that other characters are mourning. I was told that she was beautiful, smart, ambitious, and kind. It later becomes clear that she’s in her own way as messed up as everyone else, and she has an obsession with controlling her brother that verged on creepy. Somehow I never really cared about her or the fact that she died young and tragically.

The ending featured some arguably supernatural elements – depending on how you read things, but I definitely read them in a way that suggested the supernatural. It was a little unexpected, but I liked that aspect of the story. I’m not sure what grade to give Twenty Seven Minutes – readability is a B+, enjoyment is more like a C. I guess I’ll give it a B-/C+.

Best,

Jennie

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Jennie

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she’s read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she’s had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she’s not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

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