The Amateurs Paperback – 30 March 2017
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- Item Weight : 268 g
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781471405266
- ISBN-13 : 978-1471405266
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
- ASIN : 1471405265
- Publisher : Bonnier (30 March 2017)
- Reading level : 12 - 16 years
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #398,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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College freshman, Seneca Frazier, is failing just about every class at the University of Maryland and has her own private reasons for her addiction to the Case Not Solved forum, largely stemming from her mothers unsolved murder. Hooked on the mixture of smart input and practical knowledge that is the mainstay of the forum she has become close to high school senior Maddox “Maddy” Wright. With Seneca’s life falling apart at the seams trying to move on from the horror of her mother’s death she feels that resolving the Helena Kelly case might bring her some peace of mind. Rocking up to meet Maddy who resides in the neighbouring town to the Kelly family, the inaugural meeting doesn’t bode well when Seneca realises that she has been corresponding with a boy and that Maddy is short for Maddox, and turns out to be serious eye candy! Likewise, Maddox has been expecting a owlish and studious college student, nothing like the street-smart and confident biracial, Seneca. Both are somewhat disconcerted when an offer to assist feisty Aerin Kelly sees her ridiculing the idea of a college student and her ex-nanny’s formerly geeky son, Maddox, offering their combined help. But with no other offers on the table, she is persuaded to throw her lot in with the pair and another online friend, Brett Grady, grandson of a fashion heiress whose murder has left him similarly untethered. When Seneca’s first night at the (not so) Restful Inn sees her take up the offer of staying at Maddox’s place, the team gains another member in Madison, the sprightly Asian step-sister of Maddox.
The ensuing ups and downs in the relationships within the posse of four and well-explored, from the initial distrust and suspicion to overcoming the tensions of growing attractions. The brains of the bunch is undoubtedly Seneca, who prior to arrival already has ideas and angles to investigate, however, the disappointment comes when the initial revelations are pretty quick to surface and arise from the unlikely prospect that the police might not have bothered to check alibis. Encoded messages through the use of skip codes in yearbook dedications make for a quirky start, but soon this tails off into asking the former parties involved the same questions and the answers being given up all too easily. However, with plenty of suspects and a fair few red herrings to pursue I had to see the novel run its full course, despite not being hugely intrigued. Sadly the mystery aspect is a severe let down and relies on the police failing to do any due diligence and the team being pointed towards clues which do nothing to stimulate the reader. Given that the story frequently flies off at a romantic tangent the clues are also pitifully few and far between. However, The Amateurs is worth reading purely in order to see Sara Shepard well and truly blindside the gang and end this first encounter with an excellent hook for lure her audience into another instalment.
One aspect that I did appreciate was Shepard’s narration, which combined multiple perspectives and offered a clearer insight into the individual characters own reasons for getting involved. Although I think each of the characters could have been pinned down better and were rather bland, disinteresting and one-dimensional, the awkwardness between them is a great depiction of the unease and insecurities that typify a group of young people, all from very different backgrounds and all harbouring their own secrets. Sadly I cannot say that I warmed to any of the lead characters or felt particularly concerned for their fate and given that the crime is a brutal one, the trivial partying, and teenage romances are of piffling little interest. If there was something that I wasn’t expecting in The Amateurs it was the extent to which the story would concern itself with the burgeoning relationships meaning that at times the flirting threatened to overshadow the serious matter of a murder. This class, culture and opulence of all the group was also given an unnecessarily large focus in the story and added nothing to the storyline.
Despite the characters in this novel ranging from sixteen to nineteen-years-old and the storyline being filled with ‘making out’, drinking and occasional mentions of weed and pills, the writing seems aimed at a younger audience which as a parent would concern me. I suspect this is a series which will continue with a huge emphasis on character development and although I saw this mystery listed as targeting an audience of twelve through to eighteen-years-old, I would be sceptical it would appeal to a post 16 readership. Given the huge amount of backstory which Sara Shepard managed to include it is often difficult to distinguish the more relevant details from the excess padding, and with the bunch easily distracted - parties, flirting, hormonal piques, it does feel like a somewhat haphazard journey which could have been easily one hundred pages shorter. All in all, The Amateurs is a so-so introduction to a group of amateur sleuths and I would find it difficult to recommend this to anyone over the age of 14.
Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)