When a debut novel isn’t: introducing Rachel Rhys

Rachel Rhys is a pen name for a well known (and totally amazing) writer of psychological suspense novels. Having gone to all the effort of creating a different persona to publish this book, (and two subsequent historical fiction titles so far,) it seems odd that the blurb encourages the reader to anticipate a thrilling suspense novel.

At least, the blurb on my copy does; I note with interest that the blurb appears to have been amended since the book’s initial publication to stress the romantic elements of the novel instead. My blurb promises the shocking arrest of a young woman and the prologue sets out the scene of her exit from the ship in detail, but the book itself offers a glimpse into another time rather than a crime thriller. But let’s start with the blurb – my original one.

What’s it about?


England, September 1939. Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go.

Australia, six-weeks later. The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted on to dry land in handcuffs.

What has she done?


So far, so intriguing. But is that question really at the heart of this story? The short answer is no. Instead, ‘Dangerous Crossing’ focuses on romance, the slipping of boundaries between social classes and the gradual approach of World War Two, as experienced on board a glamorous cruise ship crossing the seas.

What’s it like?

This is an interesting account of life on board a British cruise ship in 1939, winding its luxurious way to Lily’s new life in Australia, and it came as no surprise to discover that the author had been inspired to write this book after discovering a real travel journal from a 1930s trip to Australia.

I enjoyed the trips the characters made to the pyramids and Pompei; there’s just enough detail to interest, but the real focus is always on the interactions between the characters. Lily’s feelings for fellow passenger Edward, who is recovering from a long convalescence, cause her increasing grief as she suspects him of lusting after Eliza. Meanwhile, Eliza’s husband, Max, makes it clear that he would like to be closer to ‘Lovely Lily’, and Lily finds she cannot fathom their marriage – or Edward – at all.

The ending is a series of sudden, swift reveals that shock and seem a little overdone in order to raise the drama required by the prologue. I’m not sure such drama was really required: there’s plenty already to intrigue readers in the tale of Maria Katz and the information seeping their way from Britain and Germany. It’s horrifying to hear passengers speak dismissively of the rumours making their way from Germany – after all, as Eliza casually insists, the Germans are civilised people.

Final thoughts

I enjoyed reading this account of shipboard life and thought the characters were skilfully drawn, their reactions and responses perfectly in keeping with their situations (although sometimes I wished Lily would be bolder).

Rhys maintains a dark undertone of tension and secrets throughout the novel. All the characters have secrets, including Lily, who is haunted by flashbacks involving blood and her best friend, Mags.

As war gathers closer, and the ship takes on more passengers fleeing Hitler, the awful George (who has read and recommends ‘Mein Kampf’) assures them all that they are surrounded by enemies, but the truth is that a few of the passengers are their own worst enemies and it may well prove to be their downfall.

‘Dangerous Crossing’,
Rachel Rhys,
2017, Black Swan, paperback