"If I knew what I know now, would I have searched so hard for the truth?"
Anne Williams says she killed her best friend, Karoline. But did she? Or is there more to Karoline's mysterious death than meets the eye?
Anne embarks on a compelling journey to discover her past and exposes an unusual history, horrific crimes and appalling betrayals. Through unexpected turns and revelations, Anne learns about love, family and who she really is. Can she survive the truth?
Sweet Karoline is a cleverly constructed psychological novel of perceptions, with a narration that brought to mind Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and a plot reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith.
Told in first person, through present and past tense, we hear from the 33 year old Los Angeles based Anne Williams, as she reflects on historical encounters and uncovers her own heritage. The locations are evocatively portrayed (particularly Italy) and the characters engage.
Karoline fell to her death but was she pushed, did she jump? How did she die? Before solving this mystery we have to wrestle with our own changing perceptions, skilfully manipulated by Astolfo. It’s up to the reader to see past Anne’s distorted opinions and piece together the facts. As such, each reader will hold different interpretations.
How Anne sees herself and others, and her views on love and sex, is at the heart of the novel. Emotionally challenged she often defines characters by their looks, giving her skewed judgements on their true nature.
Each chapter is followed by a short diary entry, the author of which is hidden. Is it Karoline, perhaps Anne? Or someone else? I thought I knew, then was sure I knew, before releasing I didn’t know. But that didn’t matter at all. The reader must work to know the book’s characters and that’s one of its strengths.
There are twists and reveals, right up to the very last word. In fact, you’ll be thinking and reflecting beyond the ending. This is a book that almost asks to be re-read.
The shifting of time and venue may disorientate and in the wrong hands this could jar but Astolfo, like a cinematographer adopting shaky camera footage, is in full control. Another potential issue is that it’s hard to love a character you are never sure about, a character that can’t love herself and doesn’t engender much sympathy. As blunt, amusing and interesting as Anne can be, I was happy with the shortness of the story (at 214 pages). My interest in Anne and Karoline and my compelling need to know what happened might have been dampened if the book had been longer.
As Anne begins to discover her colourful family history through relationships – not least with her siblings and ill mother - we begin to discover her, too.
It’s a story of suspicion and superstition, a look at the powerful influence family and friends have on us, and how our experiences – and the presence of love - affect us.
About Catherine Astolfo:
Catherine Astolfo retired in 2002 after a very successful 34 years in education. Catherine received the Elementary Dufferin-Peel OECTA Award for Outstanding Service in 1998. She was also awarded Dufferin-Peel Catholic Elementary Principal of the Year in 2002 by the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario. Catherine is a past President of Crime Writers of Canada and a Derrick Murdoch Award winner (2012). She was a Zonta Club 2012 Nominee for Women of Achievement. Writing is Catherine’s passion. She can recall inventing fantasy stories for her classmates in Grade Three. Her short stories and poems have been published in a number of literary Canadian presses. In 2005, she won a Brampton Arts Award. Her short stories won the Bloody Words Short Story Award (second and first) in 2009 and 2010. She won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Best Short Crime Story Award in 2012. Catherine’s novel series, The Emily Taylor Mysteries, are published by Imajin Books and are optioned for film by Sisbro & Co. Inc.