“You can’t get away with anything on a ship you know. Someone always finds out.”
So says the glamorous and beautiful Eliza Campbell, one of the first class passengers on board the ocean liner Orontes. It’s 1939 and the Orontes is setting sail for Australia, taking its passengers to a new life and leaving behind the threat of another war in Europe. Among those passengers is Lily Shepherd, trying to leave behind a secret that we get glimpses of throughout the book. On board ship, she quickly makes friends with many of the passengers but her choices don’t all sit easily with other passengers. As the ship makes its five-week voyage towards Australia, Rachel Rhys takes her readers on a completely addictive journey finding out about the passengers, the secrets they are trying to leave behind them and all that happens on the boat and at its various stopping points.
I adored this book and was drawn in from the very intriguing prologue. Who was the mysterious woman being taken off the ship in handcuffs and what had she done? The author has made her book gloriously visual. She paints a vivid picture of the woman leaving the boat: her detailed descriptions made it so easy to visualise the style of the clothing, the searing heat, the excitement of the waiting crowds. She continues this visual style throughout the book evoking the atmosphere and glamour of the era.
I was fascinated by the thought of all these people who wouldn’t normally engage with each other on land, being thrown together in the relatively small confines of the ship. Social and class barriers didn’t seem to matter quite so much, at least not for everyone. It was such an isolated community full of people who would not under normal circumstances associate with each other. The detail of radios being confiscated added to the feeling of a closed off society. The crew did not want the passengers to know if war was declared when they were at sea as it could result in social and political tension, potentially dangerous in such an enclosed environment.
For many of the passengers, travelling to Australia was as much about escaping from their pasts as beginning a new life. “On a boat like this….. everyone is running away from something.” Lily began to wonder if she had been too trusting of her fellow travellers: “It hasn’t occurred to Lily not to take her fellow passengers at face value.” As everyone’s secrets began to be exposed and the story neared its conclusion there was an almost unbearable sense of tension as I wondered what was going to happen and when the mysterious woman from the prologue would be revealed along with whatever she had done.
A Dangerous Crossing is a wonderful book. It’s glamorous, exciting and mysterious and all the more enthralling for knowing that it was inspired by a memoir of a real voyage to Australia in the 1930s. Although I must add that no deaths took place on that voyage to my knowledge!
My thanks to Alison Barrow for sending me a copy of this book. Dangerous Crossing was published by Doubleday yesterday in hardback and as an ebook. The paperback will follow in August. You can order a copy online here
From the back of the book
Sparkling cocktails, poisonous secrets …
1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day.
But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own.
By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.