Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, assignations, reunions, holidays or new starts, with no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed.Holly has just landed her dream job, which should make life a lot easier than it has been, and Jeff is heading for his first ever work interview after months of unemployment. They end up sitting next to each other.
Onboard customer service assistant Naz dreams of better things as he collects rubbish from the passengers. And among the others travelling are Nick with his young family who are driving him crazy; pensioner Meg and her partner setting off on a walking holiday and facing an uncertain future; Caroline, run ragged by the competing demands of her stroppy teenage children and her demented mother; and Rhona, unhappy at work and desperate to get home to her small daughter. And in the middle of the carriage sits Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack . . .
The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe was published in hardback by Constable on 22 Septembr 2016.
I've read most of Cath Staincliffe's books, she's been a favourite of mine for many years. Two of my reviews are featured on Random Things: Blink Of An Eye (September 2013) and Witness (March 2011).
The Silence Between Breaths is based on a terrifying, but completely plausible premise, and it is this that makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. For this is such an up-to-the-minute story, a reflection of the times that we live in and a story that really makes the reader think about the 'what if?'.
Passengers board the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston. This is an ordinary day for a bunch of average people and the author picks out eight of the passengers to introduce to the reader. Whilst this is only a short novel, and is a quick read, each one of those eight passengers is brought to life by this very accomplished author. We learn about them, their reasons for travelling. We find out about their lives, their loves, their troubles and their sorrows. Immaculately constructed, the characterisation is almost perfect.
From the young cleaner, Naz, in his first job, helping to keep the customers happy whilst dreaming about the day that he will open his own restaurant, to Nick and his young family. Nick is stressed, overworked, overwhelmed by being a young father and harbours thoughts that are unsavoury to say the least. There are Jeff and Holly, two young people, from different walks of life, but have a definite attraction to each other. And then there is Saheel; Asian, bearded, nervous and sweating, with a large rucksack that he keeps a tight grip on.
The ninth lead character is not a passenger. She is Saheel's young sister, back at home in Manchester and borrowing her brother's laptop to finish off her art project. What she sees when she switches it on turns her world upside down. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Cath Staincliffe expertly turns up the tension with every chapter. As the train gets nearer to Euston and the reader knows that Saheel plans to do, it becomes almost unbearable at times. The reader has come to know the characters so well.
And then. CRASH. It happens. Some characters survive, some don't. The aftermath for everyone involved is horrific, and painful and has been written so perfectly. It felt as though I really was a part of this.
Cath Staincliffe is incredibly talented. I love her writing. Her characters are fabulous and her plots are tense and satisfying. She poses questions to the reader. You ask yourself all the time; what would I do? How would I deal with that? Could I do that? Would I say that?
The Silence Between Breaths is a book that has lingered in my head for the past few days. It raises questions, it is excellently told. Really impressed with this one, and highly recommended.
Cath Staincliffe is an award winning novelist, radio playwright and creator of ITV's hit series Blue Murder. Her books have been shortlisted for the CWA's Best First Novel award and for the Dagger in the Library and she won the Short Story Dagger in 2012.
In 2014 her novel Letters To My Daughter's Killer was shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club.
Cath is also the author the Scott and Bailey novels based on the popular ITV series.
She lives in Manchester with her family.
For more information visit www.cathstaincliffe.co.uk
Follow her on Twitter @CathStaincliffe