Activists become embroiled over dead body

Mike Crowl reviews This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan. Published by Raven Books.

In this book, unlike many others, it's necessary to pay attention to the chapter headings.

The narration switches back and forth between two female activists: Ella and Molly. Ella is a young go-getter with too much on her plate, while Molly is old enough to be her grandmother. Ella has already been involved in some nasty incidents; Molly's are mostly behind her.

Molly's story starts in the present and moves forward. Ella's starts in the present and moves backwards, so that each chapter reveals more of her past, and clarifies more of who she is and what she is doing.

She is not the most likeable character - though she charms people easily - but as we learn more about her we have considerable misgivings about her motives.

Molly is honest and sincere. Indeed she finds it difficult to lie, and prefers to say nothing than utter an untruth.

Much of the story takes place in a derelict set of flats where the tenants have gradually been enticed out by offers of large sums of money. The cash is peanuts to the entrepreneurs who are planning a huge, modern high-rise; but life and death to those having to find a new home. Molly has lived here for 30 years or so, and is one of the few remaining tenants.

On the night of a fundraising party for a book on the tenants Ella plans to publish, Molly finds Ella in one of the abandoned flats, with a man's dead body on the floor. Was she responsible? Was it self-defence?

Molly's actions in support of Ella embroil her in an increasingly messy situation, one that can only end with disastrous consequences.

Dolan's story takes a little while to warm up, and she often leaves us to work out what is going on, or who some of the characters are. But once the intricate plot is set in motion, there is no looking back.

Mike Crowl is a Dunedin author, musician and composer

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