Playdate – Alex Dahl
Head of Zeus
Released: 9th July 2020
Psychological Thriller Fans rating - 76% ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Genre: Marketed as a psychological thriller but more a crime mystery / suspense
Premise: Lucia Blix drops her daughter off for a playdate with her new friend, Josie, but the little girl is never returned home and when Lucia returns to the house, finds it empty and stripped bare.
The good: Great premise that hooks you in right from the start with a brilliantly inventive abduction scene
The bad: Lost its way halfway in with too many points of view making it confusing to determine who you were supposed to be rooting for
The ugly: Marketed as a thriller but structurally more of a crime suspense / mystery because of the problem with the POVs
In summary: A great premise with a creative take on the child abduction genre but ultimately left me unsatisfied because of the multi-POV approach.
Set primarily in Norway, this book had all the makings of a great psychological thriller but for me fell short in a number of crucial areas.
It has a great premise and inciting crime – the abduction of a little girl who innocently goes on a playdate with a new friend and never returns.
And the overall story is strong, with a complex back story that is ultimately solved by a persistent journalist determined to get to the truth.
But ultimately, I felt let down because as a psychological thriller there was no clear hero / protagonist and the pace, after initially galloping away in the first quarter, dries up and gets bogs down.
I wanted to experience the story almost exclusively from the mother, Lucia Blix’s point of view, to get inside her head and find out how she dealt with losing her daughter.
But because she had her own secrets to keep, we weren’t allowed that unfettered access inside her brain and the story was let down because of it.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a bad book by any means. The writing is crisp and free-flowing. The characters are rich and well-developed, and the plot strong.
It was that the way in which the story was structured that left me feeling disappointed. There were too many points of view, which left me wondering all the way through who was the real hero and who was the real villain. Maybe it was deliberate but it didn’t work for me.
In the end, the real hero ends up being the journalist, Selma, who solves the mystery live on TV (despite being a print journalist, she suddenly gets a shot at doing a live interview on television!).
Selma then takes on the role of ‘master detective’ solving the crime, which makes this a crime fiction book to my mind.
At no point did Selma become the victim and therefore the story is not a thriller. (See: What do you expect when we read a thriller?)
It is, however, a hugely disturbing story and absolutely ticks the box of ‘extraordinary things happening to ordinary people’.
And the way the abduction was crafted and planned by Dahl was sublime. A really clever idea I wish I’d thought of!
Lots of books use the tagline ‘a parent's worst nightmare’ – but truly, sending your child trustingly off to a playdate with a friend and finding someone’s used the opportunity to snatch them, is truly terrifying.
In summary, this book had a fantastic beginning that hooked me in breathlessly but it flagged and lost its way somewhere in the middle.
It was a solid Psychological Thriller Fans 76% rating.
It was meant to be your daughter's first sleepover.
Now it's an abduction.
Lucia Blix went home from school for a playdate with her new friend Josie. Later that evening, her mother Elisa dropped her overnight things round and shared a glass of wine with Josie's mother. Then she kissed her little girl goodnight and drove home.
That was the last time she saw her daughter.
The next morning, the house was empty. No furniture, no family, no Lucia.
In Playdate, Alex Dahl puts a microscope on a seemingly average, seemingly happy family plunged into a life-altering situation.
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AJ Wills is the bestselling author of multiple psychological thrillers. He was a journalist for more than twenty years and has been writing full-time since March 2021. He's married to fellow thriller writer, AJ McDine.