Review: When I Was Ten by Fiona Cummins

@backpackingbookworm

Sometimes, you come across a thriller that breaks away from typical conventions. As you watch the scenes unfold, your senses heighten to the point where you can almost taste the tang of blood in the air. It doesn’t feel like it fiction – it feels real and you are right there in the midst of the action.

When I Was Ten has all these vibes and more.

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Disclosure: I am part of an affiliate program which means that I may earn a small commission if you purchase through my affiliate links at no additional cost to you.

Genre: Thriller
Published: 11 August 2020
Pages: 366 (Paperback)
Published: Pan Macmillan Australia

I received an advanced copy of this book from Pan Macmillan Australia and I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth (or scissors😶) into it.

A heinous murder with a ten-year-old culprit

In a nutshell, when Sara was ten, she murdered both her parents with a pair of scissors. She was taken to a secure facility where she served eight years before being released under a new identity. 20 years later on the anniversary of the killings, Sara’s sister Shannon brings the case back to light with an exclusive silence-breaking interview. Also on the hunt for a story is Brinley, the Carter’s childhood friend who knows more about the sisters than anyone else. And the secrets; there’s still plenty of those buried as deep as the bodies of Dr and Mrs Carter. What really happened that night?

When I was ten… I did the unthinkable

Prepare for chills

I’ve read so many thrillers that it takes a lot for one to hook me the way this one did. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and was always thinking about what was coming next (to the point where I was waking up in the night running impossible theories through my sleep-deprived brain).

For starters, this book is brilliantly written. The author (a former Daily Mirror show business journalist) easily injected her experience into the pages through the eyes of Brinley, the undervalued journalist searching for her big scoop. This perspective added a realistic edge to the story which was further cemented by the gathering of facts that lead to the murders.

Split into parts, the author left no stone unturned. One part flashes back to the sisters’ childhoods and gradually builds up to the life-changing event. The provided a high-level of detail that was vital to the story, showing us more than just a brief insight into their past. Some thrillers I feel add detail just to drag out the story or throw the reader off the scent, but this had a much stronger construction and added real value to the story rather than just filler.

Impossible to put down

The narrative had a brilliant pace all the way through, enough to make you want to read on at the end of every chapter. There aren’t many superfluous characters/red herrings, with the main focus on the sisters and Brinley. This made the story feel very character-driven and more realistic. It wasn’t so much one of those thrillers with plot twists at every turn (although there was definitely a twist or three thrown in), but more of a focus on family dynamics and long-kept secrets.

Other than that, I absolutely loved the concept and was fully invested in the story from start to finish.

Read if you like Karin Slaughter – Fiona Cummins builds her characters up in a similar way.

Rating breakdown

  • Plot/narrative – 4.3
    When I Was Ten has a strong plot from start to a finish (with a slightly weak ending). It starts in the present day and then flashes back to the past to give context on the murders. It then comes back to present day to follow the events as they unfold.
  • Writing style/readability – 4.5
    The book is split into three parts (Who, Why, and When) with chapter perspectives shifting between characters. The writing style is flawless and easy to digest. There is no unnecessary filler – everything is relevant to the story.
  • Characters – 4.3
    The story centres around three main characters (Sara, Shannon, and Brinley) with a good mix of secondary characters that add value to the narrative.
  • Diverse themes – 4
    Includes brutal murder committed by a child, mental health, grooming, and violence.
  • Ending – 4.1
    The main reason this book falls closer to four than a five star is that the ending felt a little stale to me. I didn’t see the final reveal but it felt a tad forced, like the author had to keep something up her sleeve to reveal in the last few pages.

    Overall rating: 4.2

Have you read any good thrillers recently? I’ve been keeping a bit of a distance but this one has reminded me that when a thriller is done right, it makes for great reading.


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