Like most people, I love a freebie.

Free ebooks always seem like a great way to fill up my kindle, which I only tend to use when a bulkier book would be inconvenient to pack. Unfortunately, in my experience, these books are often free because no-one would buy them otherwise and very little money has been spent producing them.

‘The One You Love’, billed as a suspense thriller in the style of Nicci French and Sophie Hannah, topped the free ebook charts when I downloaded it. Somewhat worryingly, I noted that Amazon felt compelled to advise potential readers that the latest edition HAD been copy-edited and that readers who had purchased an earlier version could get an upgrade. (Since when do books work like computer programs?)

A quick glance at the reviews revealed a large number of readers who had purchased the book pre-upgrade and had given up in disgust upon encountering masses of errors, including spelling mistakes and places where chunks of text were clearly missing. This rang warning bells. Surely no author who cared about their work would allow it to be published in such poor condition? Despite these concerns, I downloaded a copy on the grounds that it would be nice to enjoy an unchallenging read on my holiday. (This was important as I knew most of my holiday reading would take place while a small child was crawling over and around me, thereby requiring most of my attention!)

What’s it about?

Emma Holden’s hen night is interrupted by terrible news: her fiancĂ© is missing and his brother has been attacked in their kitchen. Could Dan have attacked his brother? As if this wasn’t enough trouble, someone is stalking Emma and her family are hiding dark secrets from her. Can she find out the truth and save the one she loves?

This is the first book in the ‘Emma Holden suspense mystery trilogy’ by Paul Pilkington, author of a previously published suspense story.

What’s it like?

Rather disjointed and fragmented. Pilkington wants to keep the reader in suspense by sharing what certain characters are doing without revealing their identity. Unfortunately, this results in a lot of confusion since the author uses the pronoun ‘he’ to describe his characters, rather than any more individual tag, even when the scene is focusing on two male characters. Sometimes even more awkward monikers are used, such as “the man who caused all this”. I quickly found this irritating rather than suspenseful.

Of course, such minor issues wouldn’t ruin a decent storyline. This story contains plenty of twists and turns, but I found these implausible rather than mysterious. It quickly becomes clear that this is the second time Emma has been stalked and the second time she has had a fiancĂ© run out on her. Rather than making me feel sympathetic towards her, I felt incredulous.

The main character needs to be interesting, especially as she has a trilogy to carry. Instead, she is rather bland and lacking in emotion, especially for an actress. The reader never sees her grieving over Dan’s disappearance, or getting angry at him, or doing anything other than being a bit confused. She accepts shocking revelations from her family with barely a blink, which is particularly annoying after reading pages and pages where they fret about telling her things.

Pilkington either doesn’t trust readers to be paying attention, or he is unfamiliar with the idea that authors should ‘show, not tell’.

The other characters are under-developed and exist purely to keep secrets from Emma. The idea that you can’t trust anyone – especially family and close friends – is a well-worn trope in this genre, but these characters could still have been more fleshed-out.

More irritatingly, Pilkington either doesn’t trust readers to be paying attention, or he is unfamiliar with the idea that authors should ‘show, not tell’. The narration is often repetitive and occasionally redundant. A police officer on the phone sounds distracted, then Emma tells us that he sounds distracted. At another point we are told that ‘wire mesh covered the window, indicating that this was probably an area that required some protection against glass breakages’. Similar instances abound.

And yet none of this was the worst flaw. All of the above are forgivable if all the reader wants is a bit of forgettable entertainment while soaking up the sun. For me, the real problem was the book’s structure. This is presented as the first in a trilogy, admittedly, but I still expected it to work as a standalone book. I’d understand the author throwing in a cliffhanger or two at the end – although I probably wouldn’t much like it – but Pilkington hasn’t actually finished this book.

Oh, it has an ‘ending’, but it’s rather abrupt and, more importantly, completely insufficient; there are several very obvious narrative gaps left to be filled in by a later book. It’s telling that the action in the sequel, ‘The One You Fear’, picks up one week after this book finishes. The sequel, by the way, is not free, although it’s still very cheap. Essentially, the free book is a big hook to get readers to buy the next one.

Final thoughts

Comparing this to Nicci French and Sophie Hannah could kindly be called ambitious. It lacks the genuine suspense of the former and the psychological depth of the latter. The pace is quick, there is plenty of drama and cliffhangers to keep readers turning the pages. Despite its flaws, this could have been a decent suspense thriller if its author had been happy to create one complete book from all his material. Unfortunately, I found the ‘ending’ to ‘The One You Love’ completely unsatisfying. There is just too much that is obviously unresolved.

‘The One You Love’
Paul Pilkington