The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald - book review: Add on a big dollop of edge-of-the-seat suspense and you have perfect book to set reading group minds in motion

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare… a phone call in the early hours to say your child is in hospital after a terrible accident.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 25th March 2019, 11:29 am
Updated Monday, 25th March 2019, 11:43 am
The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald
The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald

But when Abi Knight sees her teenage daughter, she knows almost immediately that this wasn’t an accident, and someone is lying.

If you like your psychological thrillers to come bristling with suspense, fast-moving, full of gripping twists and turns, and with a powerful emotional punch that pulls tightly at your heartstrings, then treat yourself to this outstanding debut from journalist and copywriter Christina McDonald.

The Night Olivia Fell is a stunning first novel which explores the close but often complex relationship between a parent and child in a powerful, moving story, grounded in gritty reality but which soars high on a wave of authentic, gut-wrenching emotions and delivers an intriguing mystery.

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In the small hours of the morning, Abi Knight from Seattle is woken by a phone call from the hospital with the devastating news that her 17-year-old daughter Olivia has been in a shocking accident.

A single mother, Abi is devoted to her only child… she is her ‘centre of gravity’ and the only thing that ties her to this earth.

On arrival, Abi is told that that Olivia slipped and fell from a bridge into the icy water below, and now she is lying silent, motionless and dependent on life support.

The doctors tell her Olivia is brain dead but, in a shocking twist, the teenager is also three months pregnant and, under local law, must remain on life support to keep her unborn baby alive.

And then Abi sees the angry bruises circling Olivia’s wrists and when the disinterested police unexpectedly rule her daughter’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened that night.

Olivia hasn’t been her usual self for a while; the normally sunny, sweet, ‘easy’ teenager who never partied, got straight As and helped friends with their homework has been distracted, temperamental and asking questions about the father she never knew.

And Abi has secrets too… secrets and lies hidden on the ‘dark side’ of her heart and which, she feared, would one day be ‘washed into the open.’

Heartbroken and grieving, she starts to unravel the threads of her daughter’s life. Was Olivia’s fall an accident, or was it something far more sinister?

McDonald’s dual narrative, which slips between Abi in the present and Olivia in the recent past, is the perfect literary device to reveal the secrets and lies that slowly and inexorably rise to the surface and tell the story of the catastrophe that has engulfed them both.

Domestic suspense always relies heavily on good characterisation and this is an author whose insight and empathy has enabled her to portray Abi and Olivia – and the love they share for each other –with breathtaking and touching truthfulness.

There is darkness, tragedy and raw grief in this compelling and beautifully written story but there are also the eternal, unquestioning bonds of a mother’s love and the spirit of hope which never dies.

Add on a big dollop of edge-of-the-seat suspense and you have perfect book to set reading group minds in motion…

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)