Try Not to Breathe: Gripping psychological thriller bestseller and perfect holiday read

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9781782399452: Try Not to Breathe: Gripping psychological thriller bestseller and perfect holiday read

For fans of Gillian Flynn, Laura Lippman, and Paula Hawkins comes Holly Seddon s arresting fiction debut an engrossing thriller full of page-turning twists and turns, richly imagined characters, and gripping psychological suspense.
"Some secrets never die. They re just locked away."
Alex Dale is lost. Destructive habits have cost her a marriage and a journalism career. All she has left is her routine: a morning run until her body aches, then a few hours of forgettable work before the past grabs hold and drags her down. Every day is treading water, every night is drowning. Until Alex discovers Amy Stevenson. Amy Stevenson, who was just another girl from a nearby town until the day she was found unconscious after a merciless assault. Amy Stevenson, who has been in a coma for fifteen years, forgotten by the world. Amy Stevenson, who, unbeknownst to her doctors, remains locked inside her body, conscious but paralyzed, reliving the past.
Soon Alex s routine includes visiting hours at the hospital, then interviews with the original suspects in the attack. But what starts as a reporter s story becomes a personal obsession. How do you solve a crime when the only witness lived but cannot tell the tale? Unable to tear herself away from her attempt to uncover the unspeakable truth, Alex realizes she s not just chasing a story she s seeking salvation.
Shifting from present to past and back again, "Try Not to Breathe" unfolds layer by layer until its heart-stopping conclusion. The result is an utterly immersive, unforgettable debut.
Advance praise for "Try Not to Breathe"
""
A razor-sharp plot and wonderfully complex characters . . . Not since "The Girl on the Train "have I been so captivated by a work of suspense. "New York Times" bestselling author Tess Gerritsen
A fast-paced debut aboutlong-buried secrets and tangled truths. "New York Times "bestselling author Kimberly McCreight
Engrossing . . . Seddon s storytelling skills are strong. . . . The world she s constructed is fascinating and slightly dark. "Kirkus Reviews""

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About the Author:

Holly Seddon was born and raised in the southwest of England and now lives in the Kent countryside with her husband and four children. Throughout her fifteen-year career, Seddon has been privileged to work in some of the UK s most exciting newsrooms. As a freelance writer, she has been published on national newspaper websites, leading consumer websites, and in magazines. Seddon has been writing short stories since childhood. "Try Not to Breathe" is her first novel."

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Amy, 18 July 1995

 

Music thudded through Amy's body and seized her heart. Music so loud that her eardrums pounded in frenzy and her baby bird ribs rattled. Music was everything. Well, almost everything.

Later, the newspapers would call fifteen-year-old Amy Stevenson a "ray of sunshine", with "everything to live for". Her headphones buzzed with rock and pop as she trudged the long way home, rucksack sagging.

Amy had a boyfriend, Jake. He loved her and she loved him. They had been together for nearly eight months, walking the romance route around the 'top field' at school during break time, hot hand in hot hand, fast hearts synchronised. 

Amy had two best friends: Jenny and Becky. The trio danced in a perpetual whirlpool of back stories, competition and gossip. Dizzying trails of 'she-said-he-said-she-said' preceded remorseful, sobbing hugs at the end of every drunken Saturday night.

Nights out meant lemon Hooch in the memorial park or Archers & Lemonade at The Sleeper pub, where a five-year-old wouldn't have been IDed. Nights in meant My So Called Life and Friends. After school, time ticked down to the 6pm phone calls once it hit the cheap rate. She would talk until her step-dad, Bob, came into the dining room and gave her that look: it's dinner time, get off my phone.

Amy's Kickers bag grew heavier with every step. She shifted it awkwardly to the other shoulder, tangling her headphone wires so that one bud pinged out of her ear, the sounds of the real world rushing in.

She had taken the long way home. The previous day she'd got back early and startled Bob in the kitchen as he stirred Coffee Mate into his favourite mug. At first he'd smiled, opening his arms for a hug before realising that she'd made it back in record time and must have gone across the field.

She'd had to sit through half an hour of Bob's ranting and raving about walking the safe route home, along the roads: "I'm saying this because I love you, Ames, we both love you and we just want you to be safe."

Amy had listened, shuffled in her seat and stifled yawns. When he'd finally stopped, she'd stomped upstairs, flopped onto her bed and smacked CD cases around as she made an angry mix tape. Rage Against The Machine, Hole and Faith No More.

As she'd surprised Bob the day before, Amy knew he was likely to be home already. Waiting to catch her and have another go at her. It wasn't worth the hassle even though the longer walk was especially unwelcome on Tuesdays. Her bag was always really heavy as she had French and History and both had stupid, massive textbooks.

Amy hated learning French with a passion, the teacher was a dick and who needs to give a window a gender? But she liked the idea of knowing the language. French was a sexy language. She imagined she could seduce someone a bit more sophisticated than Jake by whispering something French in his ear. She could seduce someone older. Someone a lot older.

She loved Jake, of course, she meant it when she said it. She had his name carefully stencilled onto her bag with a Tippex pen and when she imagined the future, he was in it. But over the last few weeks she had begun to see the differences between them more and more.

Jake, with his wide smile and deep brown puppy-dog eyes, was so easy to spend time with, so gentle. But in the time they'd been going out, he'd barely plucked up the courage to put his hand inside her school shirt. They spent whole lunch hours kissing in the top field, and one time he'd climbed on top of her but she'd got a dead leg and had to move and he was so flustered he barely spoke for the rest of the day.

It had been months and months and she was still a virgin. It was getting embarrassing. She hated the idea of being last, hated losing at anything.

Frustrations aside, Amy hoped Jake had skipped Judo club so he could come and meet her. Jake and his younger brother, Tom, were driven home from school every day because his snooty mum worked as the school secretary. His family lived in the double-fronted houses of Royal Avenue. He was always back before Amy reached the two-bedroom terrace house in Warlingham Road where she lived with Bob and her mum, Jo.

Jake's mum, Sue, didn't like Amy. It was like she saw her as someone who would corrupt her precious baby. Amy liked the idea that she was some kind of scarlet woman. She liked the idea of being any kind of woman.

Amy Stevenson had a secret. A secret that made her stomach lurch and her heart thump. None of Amy's friends knew about her secret, and Jake certainly didn't know. Jake could never know. Even Jake's mum, with her disapproving looks, would never have guessed.

Amy's secret was older. Absolutely, categorically a man. His shoulders were broader than Jake's, his voice lower, and when he made rude remarks, they came from a mouth that had earned the right to make them. He was tall and walked with confidence, never in a rush.

Her secret wore aftershave, not Lynx, and he drove a car, not a bike. Unlike Jake's sandy curtains, he had thick, dark hair. A man's cut. She had seen through his shirts that there was dark hair in the shallow dip at the centre of his chest. Her secret had a tall, dark shadow.

When Amy thought about him, her nerves exploded and her head filled with a bright white sound that shut out any sense.

Her secret touched her waist like a man touches a woman. He opened doors for her, unlike the boys in her class who bowled into corridors like silver balls in a pinball machine.

Her mum would call him "tall, dark and handsome". He didn't need to show off, didn't need to boast. Not even the prettiest girls at school would have thought they stood a chance. None of them knew that Amy stood more than a chance. Way more.

Amy knew that he would have to stay a secret, and a short-lived one at that. A comma in her story, nothing more. She knew that she should keep it all locked in a box; perfect, complete, private, totally separate from the rest of her soundtrack. It was already a memory, really. Months from now she would still be snogging Jake at lunch time; bickering with her friends; coming up with excuses for late homework. She knew that. She told herself she was cool with that. 

The feeling Amy got when he touched her hip or brushed her hair out of her face was like an electric bolt. Just the tips of his fingers made her flesh sing in a way that blocked out everything else in the world. She was both thrilled and terrified by thoughts of what he could do to her, what he would want her to do to him. Would they ever get the chance? Would she know what to do if they did?

That kiss in the kitchen, with the sounds of the others right outside. His hands on her face, a tickle of stubble that she'd never felt before. That one tiny kiss that kept her awake at night. 

Amy turned into Warlingham Road and the ritual began. She put her bag down on the crumbly concrete wall. She unrolled the waistband of her skirt so it was no longer hitched up. She decanted her things, finding her Charlie Red spray and cherry lip balm.

Amy shook the spray and let a short burst of sweet vapour fill the air. Then, after looking around self-consciously, she stepped into the perfumed cloud, like she'd seen her mum do before a night at the social club.

She ran the lip balm along her bottom lip, then the top, kissing them together and then dabbing them matte with her jumper. On the off-chance that Jake was waiting, she wanted to be ready, but not make it obvious that she'd tried.

Amy's Walkman continued to flood her ears. Do You Remember The First Time? by Pulp kicked in and Amy smiled. Lead singer Jarvis Cocker smirked and winked in her ears as she set everything back in the bag, shifted it to the other shoulder and started down the road.

She saw Bob's van in the road. Amy was twelve doors away from home. As she squinted, she could make out a figure walking towards her.

She could tell from the way the figure walked - confident, upright, deliberate - that it wasn't Jake. Jake skirmished around like a startled crab, half-running, half-walking. Amy could tell from the figure's slim waist that it wasn't Bob, who was shaped like a little potato.

When Amy realised who it was she felt a rush of nausea.

Had anyone seen him?

Had Bob seen him?

How could he risk coming to the house?

Above everything, Amy felt a burst of exhilaration and adrenalin thrusting her towards him like iron filings to a magnet.

Jarvis Cocker was still talking dirty in her ears, she wanted to make him stop but didn't want to clumsily yank at her Walkman.

She held her secret's gaze, biting her lip as she clicked every button until she crunched the right one down and the music stopped. They were toe to toe. He smiled and slowly reached forward. He took one headphone, then the other from the side of her head. His fingers brushed her ears. Amy swallowed hard, unsure of the rules.

"Hello, Amy," he said, still smiling. His green eyes twinkled, the lashes so dark they looked wet. He reminded her of an old photo of John Travolta washing his face between takes on Saturday Night Fever. It had been printed in one of her music magazines and while she thought John Travolta was a bit of a nobhead, it was a very cool picture. She'd stuck it in her hardback Art & Design sketch book.

"Hello..." she replied, in a voice a shade above a whisper.

"I have a surprise for you... get in." He gestured to his car - a Ford Escort the colour of a fox - and opened the door grandly like a chauffeur.

Amy looked around, "I don't know if I should, my step-dad's probably watching."

As soon as her words were in the air, Amy heard a nearby front door, and ducked down behind the Escort.

A little way up the pavement, Bob set his tool bag down with a grunt. He exhaled heavily as he fumbled for his keys and opened his van. Unaware he was being watched, Bob lumped the tool bag into the passenger seat and slammed the door with his heavy, hairy hands. He waddled around to the driver's seat, heaved himself up and drove away with a crunch of gears, the back of his van shaking like a wagging tail.

As excited as Amy was, as ready as she was, a huge part of her wanted to sprint off up the road and jump into the van, safe and young again, asking Bob if she could do the gears.

"Was that your step-father?"

As she stood up and dusted herself down Amy nodded, wordless.

"Problem solved then. Get in." He smiled an alligator smile. And that was that. Amy had no more excuses and she climbed into the car.

 


 

Chapter Two

Alex, 7 September 2010

 

The hospital ward was trapped in a stillborn pause. Nine wordless, noiseless bodies sat rigidly under neat pastel blankets.

Alex Dale had written about premature babies, their seconds-long lives as fragile as a pile of gold dust.

She had written about degenerative diseases and machine-dependents whose futures lay in the idle flick of a button. She had even detailed every knife-twist of her own mother's demise, but these patients in front of her were experiencing a very different living death.

The slack faces in the Neuro-disability ward at the Tunbridge Wells Royal Infirmary had known a life before. They were unlike the premature babies, who had known nothing but the womb, the intrusion of tubes and the warmth of their parents' anxious, desperate hands.

The patients weren't like the dementia sufferers whose childlike stases were punctuated by the terror of memories.

These rigid people on Bramble Ward were different. They had lived their lives with no slow decline, just an emergency stop. And they were still in there, somewhere.

Some blinked slowly, turning their heads slightly to the light and changing expression fluidly. Others were freeze-framed; mid-celebration, at rest or in the eye of a trauma. All of them were now trapped in a silent scream.

"For years patients like this were all written off," said the auburn-haired ward manager with the deepest crow's feet Alex had ever seen. "They used to be called vegetables." She paused and sighed. "A lot of people still call them that."

Alex nodded, using scrappy shorthand to record the conversation in her Moleskine pad.

The ward manager continued. "But the thing is, they're not all the same and they shouldn't be written off. They're individuals. Some of them are completely lacking awareness, but others are actually minimally conscious, and that's a world apart from being brain dead."

"How long do they tend to stay here before they recover?" Alex asked, poising her pen above the paper.

"Well, very few of them recover. This summer we had one lad go home for round-the-clock care from his parents and sister but that was the first one in years."

Alex raised her eyebrows.

"Most of them have been here for a long time," the manager added. "And most of them will die here too."

"Do they get many visitors?"

"Oh yes. Some of them have families that put themselves through it every single week for years and years." She stopped and surveyed the beds. 

"I'm not sure I could do that. Can you imagine showing up week in, week out and getting nothing back?"

Alex, tried to shake images of her own knotty-haired mother, staring blankly into her only daughter's face and asking for a bedtime story.

The ward manager had lowered her voice, there were visitors sitting at several beds.

"It's only recently that we've realised there are some signs of life below the surface. Some patients like these ones," she gestured to the beds behind Alex, "and I'm talking a handful across the world, have even started to communicate."

She stopped walking. Both women were standing in the centre of the ward, curtains and beds surrounding them. Alex raised her eyebrows, encouraging her to continue.

"That's not quite right, actually. Those patients had been communicating all along, the doctors just didn't know how to hear them before. I don't know how much you've read, but after a year, the courts can end life support if they're being kept alive by machines. And now with the NHS funding cuts..." the nurse trailed off.

"How terrible to have no voice," said Alex, as she took scribbled notes and swayed, nauseated, amongst the electric hum of the hospital ward. 

Alex was writing a profile piece for a weekend supplement on the work of Dr Haynes, the elusive scientist researching brain scans that picked up signs of communication in patients like these. She hadn't met the doctor yet and was skidding towards her deadline. A far cry from her best work. 

There was one empty bed in the ward, the other nine quietly filled. All ten had identical baby blue blankets within their lilac curtained cubicles.

Inside those pastel walls, nurses and orderlies could hump and huff the patients into a seated position, wipe their wet mouths and dress them in the clothes brought in from home and donated by arms-length well-wishers.

A radio fizzed from behind the reception area, as chatter and 'golden oldies' alternated with each other. The...

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