2018 was the year where I finally cracked how to listen to an audio book rather than read a book. Quite a simple skill for many but I found it enormously challenging to concentrate until another blogger suggested that I imagine the author had visited to tell me the story – somehow imagining that there was someone there worked for me. But not all stories are created equally in this audio world. On the whole I prefer my audio books to be lighter than my usual reads and contemporary fiction works far better than crime fiction (somehow hearing the crimes described is too much, ludicrous I know but there we are!)
I have made one exception that worked though and this was for Don’t Believe It a crime fiction novel based upon a TV series like Making a Murderer or The Staircase or even the podcasts that comprised West Cork, all of which I’ve either watched or listed to. The format of the book is quite unlike anything else I’ve read and lent itself so well to audio that I have a suspicion that this actually may not have worked for me if I’d read rather than listened to it.
The Girl of Sugar Beach is the name of the twelve part TV series that female producer Sydney Ryan has planned. It covers a crime committed some ten years previously on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. A young man, Julian was killed at a fancy hotel resort and his college-aged girlfriend, Grace Seabold, was put on trial for murder and imprisoned. She’s worked hard, alongside her loyal friend to get her case noticed so that someone will campaign seriously for her release. Inevitably as Sydney undertakes her research into the case she uncovers stuff that could put her own career in danger. Of course the main thing we all want to know not only did Grace do it or not?
This book felt different to the many crime novels out in the market and of course it is tapping into a relatively new phenomenon where TV researchers have the money and time to probe areas that may yield answers due to the advances in forensics or the loosening of relationships which prevented the truth being told. The format also allows the author to play a little with the information because let’s face it, often these documentaries take a view, consciously or not.
The book is segmented with the story Grace Seabold herself presents. This goes back to the past and right up to the present, her story of what happened the day Julian died and as time goes on how this intersects with the evidence presented in court. We also see behind the scenes information from the proposal of the TV show to when it goes on air, which is fascinating in its own right. We sit on meetings hearing the feedback from the last episode and the planning of the next. This is a great insight into the TV world, the jockeying for ratings and the money-men demanding value for their bucks. We follow Sydney Ryan as she jets backwards and forwards, interviewing not just Grace but her friends and family, seeking out experts and working against the clock to put an episode together for the public to view. We also meet a man in hospital who has lost his leg due to cancer. It takes a little while to work out why he is there but even before then I felt he added an important contrast to Sydney looking back and Grace worrying about the here and now with her frantic schedule, instead we have a man working out what his future will hold.
A great book which as we got towards the end, I thought I had it all figured out; the author disagreed and surprised me with a different finale altogether!
I can’t leave this review without praising the narrator, Nina Alvamar, for the engaging way she told the story.