A Breath after Drowning book review: a decades old mystery with a complex plot and characterisation

A breath after drowning book review

What is this about?: Decades ago Kate’s sister, Savannah, was murdered and with the execution of her killer looming, she finds herself on a path to investigating her sister’s murder and it’s links to other murders in the decades since her death.

What else is this about?: This is a slow burn, one that devotes the time and care to build Kate, and the characters around her as much as possible, before everything comes together in the end.


The stunning new psychological thriller from the award-winning author of Darkness Peering and The Breathtaker.

Child psychiatrist Kate Wolfe’s world comes crashing down when one of her young patients commits suicide, so when a troubled girl is left at the hospital ward, she doubts her ability to help. But the girl knows things about Kate’s past, things she shouldn’t know, forcing Kate to face the murky evidence surrounding her own sister’s murder sixteen years before, bringing Kate face to face with her deepest fear.

Stars: 3.5/5

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a post by Alice Blanchard, who wrote about her favourite snakes in the grass in literature.  And today, I can finally post my review of A Breath After Drowning.

Every word matters in A Breath After Drowning, though it took to the end of the book for me to get the full picture of the story Alice Blanchard was telling. From that you’ll gather that I might’ve been wary of this book in the beginning, but by the end, I was pleased I’d continued reading.

Blanchard takes her time building Kate and her relationship with her boyfriend James. He works int he adult section of the hospital where Kate treats kids, and theirs is a strong relationship. It grounds Kate, and let’s Kate have her nightmares and her hang-ups, but James is still there, supporting her. I know it seems strange to be mentioning this, but often times, it’s not always the case — the male character is either the one messing with the female MC in thrillers, is disinterested and a douche and they break up adding to the emotional turmoil for the MC, or they’re dead.

My point is, it’s no less harder to write a strong relationship, one that endures within the emotional turmoil for an MC than it is to write a  character deep in the midst of emotional upheavel.

Kate and James argue, they disagree about work, but they come to and understanding and respect for each other’s work. The book takes the time to help readers understand this and each of their working lives.

So, I should actually talk about the plot too

In the aftermath of the death of one of her patients, one that should have been doing well by all accounts, Kate finds herself treating Maddie, whose mother, Nelly, was the woman that put the man, Blackwood, who killed her sister in jail. It’s an emotional time for Kate — she’s trying to come to terms with her patient’s death and explain her treatment to lawyers, Blackwood’s execution is coming up, and she very much wants to help Maddie.

And then Nelly tells her she lied at Blackwood’s trial, that he’s innocent.

That throws Kate, to say the least, as does the meeting with a cop, Dyson, who helped investigate her sister’s murder and who thinks Blackwood is telling the truth.

From there, Blanchard begins to unveil the depth and complexity of her story, drawing in other characters and Kate’s past into what turns out to be a murder mystery that spans decades and involves other deaths. There are red herrings along the way, but I enjoyed the characters that inhabited this world. I genuinely felt convinced someone was the killer, and then something happened and I changed my mind.

While Blanchard takes her time giving Kate and James her attention and drawing a vivid picture of these two, she’s wastes no time — or words —  in letting readers understand and empathise with her secondary characters as well.

A Breath After Drowning is one of those deceptive books, where I thought I knew what it would be about, and then got wonderfully surprised at the complex characterisation and a plot that spans time and characters I did not expect.


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