It’s such a pleasure today to share my review of Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech, published as an e-book on 18th February by Orenda Books, with the paperback to follow on 18th April. My thanks to Karen Sullivan for my advance reading copy, although I did purchase the kindle version on release day to make my reading a little easier. I really hadn’t planned to share my review yet – I’m on the blog tour on 9th April – but just couldn’t contain my excitement for another month, so this is a review I’ll be happy to share twice.
I suspect it’s no secret by now that Louise is one of my very favourite writers, with an infinite capacity for reinvention. I was spellbound by How To Be Brave (you’ll find my review here), and also by the very different The Mountain In My Shoe (review here): I found the harder edges of Maria in the Moon (review here) a little more of a challenge, but she captured my heart yet again with The Lion Tamer Who Lost (review here). But an “all-consuming psychological thriller”? Might this be a more difficult one for me to love?
Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…
Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.
Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.
Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …
What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.
Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…
With echoes of the Play Misty for Me, Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…
No, it wasn’t difficult at all. While, on the face of it, this might not look like one for me, I found this book absolutely stunning. It’s totally gripping – claustrophobic, unsettling, making you jump at every creak and closing door – as Stella performs her final late-night radio show. But at its heart are all the strengths that have made me so passionate about the author’s writing – she writes about love with astonishing and unflinching honesty, but in this book adds an extra edge of darkness that I found totally irresistible.
It’s largely about relationships – Stella’s present day relationship with her mother, with the poignancy of her earlier abandonment, left with a perfume bottle, mirrored in recurring images of sky and stars. There’s the heartbreak as we see her form attachments with others who provide that love and care that was torn away from her, with a particular intensity to her relationship with Tom, and her fear that she might lose him too.
There’s an uncovering of so many secrets as we watch events unfold in that intimate setting of the studio of the radio station late at night – the sense of place created is quite exceptional, the atmosphere thick with tension, the telephone calls from strangers that were used so well in Maria in the Moon again featuring heavily and with even greater intensity and purpose.
I really loved all the small details – the texts, the choices of music, the re-heated news – as Stella urges others to share their secrets and the passions that drive them. And those small details are as effectively used in the home setting, Stella’s place of safety and security – the chopping board at a critical distance from the edge of the surface, the blood-red sofa, the significance of the keys.
The different voices work so well – Stella herself, mother Elizabeth, and a few key chapters in the voice of taxi driver Bob. And the book’s pacing is absolutely perfect – the slowish start, the glimpses of life outside the studio past and present, the relentless building of tension and suspense, the gradual unravelling of secrets, the false trails and inevitable red herrings, the more focused and frenetic approach of the book’s emotional and dramatic climax, and the unexpectedness of what follows.
And through it all, there runs that emotional sureness of touch that distinguishes every one of the author’s books – this is an incredibly accomplished thriller, but it also broke my heart. Compelling, unforgettable, and recommended without reservation – I loved it.
About the author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her next book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Maria in the Moon was compared to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and widely reviewed. All three books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU. Her last book, The Lion Tamer Who Lost, was shortlisted for the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction award at the 2019 Romantic Novel Awards.
She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.