Guilt Trip

Guilt Trip

Guilt Trip was first published in 2014 and is Maggy Farrell’s debut novel. It’s a paranormal mystery story about a teenage girl who starts to have strange visions following her mother’s death. The novel stands alone and does not form part of a longer series.

Sixteen year old Melissa was riding with her mother on the day of the accident. Their car skidded on black ice and plunged into a river. Since that day, Mel has been haunted by dreams of the crash. She knows that she could have saved her mother, however in her panic she could only think about her own escape.

A year has passed since then and Melissa has spent a lot of time bonding with her father over his interest in geology. To spend some quality time together, her Dad arranges a holiday to coincide with his business trip. The rural town where they stay is quaint and boasts a number of distinct natural features, including the famous Hellsgate Caverns.

Yet the trip only serves to make Melissa’s dreams worse. Auditory hallucinations begin to haunt her waking hours and she is plagued by an unmistakable sense of déjà vu. While she fears that her survivor’s guilt is worsening, she quickly begins to feel that something more is afoot. How else can she explain the reaction of Luke, the landlord of the hotel, who acts as though he recognises her…

Reviewing mystery stories is hard. Really hard. I don’t believe in spoiling novels for people as I like to encourage readers to pick up the books for themselves. In light of that, this review is likely to be shorter than normal and a little vague in places. Please don’t take this as a sign that I didn’t enjoy the novel. As you will see, my opinion is actually quite the opposite.

For a short book, Guilt Trip is really brimming with atmosphere and I found myself hooked from start to finish. Most of this is achieved through its wonderful setting. Though nameless, the town in which the story is set echoed the feel of the Yorkshire Dales. The author is clearly very familiar with this kind of rural setting, vividly describing everything from the look and feel of a country pub to ethereal geological formations (the most memorable being a petrifying well that was not too dissimilar to Mother Shipton’s Cave).

The setting helped to add an eerie backdrop to the tale. This is actually really difficult to get right. It’s clear that Farrell understands what it’s like to live in such a place, surrounded by a landscape that just invites ghostly apparitions and fey explanations. Although the story builds on the idea that the strange happenings might be entirely in Melissa’s head, the locations that she visit help to add a layer of uncertainty. It just seems like the kind of place where the boundary between this world and the next would be at its thinnest.

The pacing of the novel is also spot on. It gets off to a very quick start, immediately opening with a vision of the tragic accident that claimed Melissa’s mother. This is a reoccurring motif throughout the story, gradually evolving as Melissa starts to understand exactly what is happening to her. The story maintains this pacing throughout, interspersing Melissa’s trips with her worsening visions. There is always a sense that something bigger is going on and this really maintains the tension, yet it is not until past the halfway mark that the puzzle pieces start to slot into place.

While the first half of the story sets the tone, the second begins to weave together the plot points to clue the reader in to what the real mystery is. The answer might not exactly be what you are expecting. I must admit that the impression that I had when I started reading was a far cry from how things turned out in the end. However, I should probably note here that the second half of the story contains a number of themes that some readers may find upsetting. Underage drinking, the building attraction between a sixteen year old girl and a man twenty years her senior and an implied rape all feature, although it is by no means as graphic as some of the other young adult novels I’ve reviewed on this blog. I would describe the story’s overall tone as chilling and I do think that some readers may find its final act to be rather disturbing.

In terms of character, I thought that Melissa provided a very strong and sympathetic narrative voice. Although her behaviour was sometimes strange and erratic, this helped to sell the fact that she was still a teenager who had survived a terrible event. While the novel didn’t have much by way of a secondary cast, I will complement Farrell on the development of Luke. As the story progresses, it reveals him to have a tragic past of his own. Subtle things that he says and does early in the tale become more poignant with hindsight and I do really want to read this novel again to see how much I missed the first time around.

I only really had one issue with the story and this is purely personal. I just didn’t like the twist – it didn’t sit well with me at all. I’m not going to spoil the story for you but just note the fact that Guilt Trip has been marketed on the basis of its shocking twist. I don’t really like it when authors do this as I think that twists are more effective when you don’t know that they’re coming. I think I was just expecting so much that I was left feeling a bit apathetic towards the conclusion. I say no more. If you do read this book, I’d be interested to hear what you thought of it.

So, I guess that’s really all that I have to say. Overall, I really would recommend Guilt Trip. Its setting is fantastic and Farrell certainly knows how to keep the reader hooked. I would certainly read more of her work in the future.

Guilt Trip can be purchased as an eBook from

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2016 – Part 2 | Arkham Reviews

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