Allie Reynolds debut novel Shiver is an isolation thriller which, on that description makes it sound perfect for these Covid times. Set in a mainly deserted glacier-top ski resort before the start of the season it also draws heavily on Reynold’s own past as a freestyle snowboarder to flesh out its group of characters and their sketchy pasts.
Milla is a former competitive snowboarder. Ten years have passed since a tragedy-filled season that changed her life. So much time has passed that Milla feels comfortable attending a kind of reunion with four of her fellow boarders from that time. She feels a thrill of nostalgia as she once again sees Brett, Dale, Heather and Curtis. But right from the start, as they board the bubble cable cars that will take them to the summit hotel, things feel a little off. And it is not long before things start to go wrong. They find the hotel completely empty of staff, their phones disappear and then during an “icebreaker” game mysterious accusations about their time ten years before emerge. All of this goes back to the event that they have come to commemorate – the disappearance of Curtis’s sister, and Milla’s main rival, Saskia.
To talk too much about the plot from there would be to spoil this well crafted, tension filled thriller. Reynolds carefully intersperses the present day story with its rising tensions and suspicions with detail of the season ten years before. In particular the dangerous competition between Milla and Saskia, each trying to find ways to nobble the other before big competition days, and the shifting sexual allegiances between the five and a number of other boarders who are pulled into their orbit.
Reynolds experience allows her capture the single focussed drive to be the best no matter what. The young Milla is constantly driving herself to do more and more dangerous stunts in order to get ahead. Trying to prove her worth to a family who do not believe in her and sponsors who require constant success. In the present, she carries the guilt over the way she behaved, even while recognising she would not change. And it turns out that even ten years later, Milla can’t shake her need to prove herself even if those decisions put the others in danger.
And Milla is not the only one. All of the characters, particularly Saskia, are fairly awful, both in the past and in the present. Much of the tension between this so called group of friends comes from the fact that while they are seeking connection, they are also trying to beat each other in competition, and prepared to injure themselves (and possibly each other) to do so. But Reynolds, by digging into the psychology of high level competitive athletes, makes them relatable, or at least understandable.
Shiver is a high concept thriller that works. Reynolds effectively builds the tension while doling out tantalising hints from the past. The reveals, when they come, are clever and the action that follows is well handled. For those in the southern hemisphere, despite its sub-zero setting, Shiver will be a great, page turning beach read.