I devoured Call Me Evie, by J.P. Pomare. I have to let you all in on a secret. I hate books written in first person narrative, and I despise books with an unreliable narrator. That said, this book has both of those things, and I loved it.
The story of 17-year-old Melbourne High School girl, Kate and the fall out from one night is told through tight writing, flashbacks to the past and back to present day New Zealand where she finds herself locked away in a remote cabin by a man claiming to be her Uncle. The supporting characters are well drawn, and just the slightest bit creepy but the story belongs to Kate/Evie and her struggle to tell what is accurate from what is a lie.
Call Me Evie is one of the best books I've read in years, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who likes a well-told thriller woven with interesting characters. It makes you think, leads you down false paths. You can't trust yourself when you are trying to figure out what is happening any more than you can believe Kate/Evie.
This is a very impressive debut novel. I can't wait to see what J.P Pomare has up his sleeve for his next book. He has set the bar ridiculously high with this one.
The novel is mainly narrated by Evie/Kate and from the get-go we’re intrigued to know why she’s in a remote corner of New Zealand with the mysterious Jim. He seems to be both benefactor and persecutor, and the author keeps the tension flowing as we switch from “before” to “after” chapters, always wondering exactly who Jim is. Kate is 17, and something awful happened back in Melbourne. One night Jim tells her that “his life support was switched off”. So we assume there’s been a murder. Did Kate do it? Did Jim? Is Jim the father of Kate’s friend Willow? We get the back story of Kate’s teenage life as she negotiates friendship and first love, and we know that Kate’s mother has been dead a long time, getting a hint of mental illness. Her father is a former rugby hero who’s turned to finance.
Central to the book are questions of memory: their reliability, their absence, whether they can be instilled or invented. We’re not sure whether to trust Kate’s interpretation of events. Jim’s behaviour is certainly weird. He seems to be a very caring jailer, if increasingly unhinged. Credit to Pomare’s writing skill that we never quite know what’s what until right at the very end. All the plot points dovetail neatly. Oh - revenge porn is also central to the plot. Pomare shows why a savvy teen might allow herself to be filmed. Recommended.
With a growing awareness of her isolation and of how complete her removal has been from her old world of the ‘before’, Evie has few tools at hand with which to dig out the truth of what happened back in Australia. All she really knows is what Jim has selectively been telling her. It was something bad, it was something that they needed to jump on plane to get away from. As Evie’s patchy memory serves up greater pieces of her past with the passage of time, it is not reassuring to being to recall what was done by Evie, or to Evie. Now living in a remote New Zealand coastal town, Evie’s world is narrowing by the day. The cabin walls do not feel cosy at all. They feel like the walls of a cage.
Initially we are lulled into a false sense of security as we read of the functional relationship Evie has with her protector Jim, and of the serene New Zealand coastal town which has become their bolt hole from past horrors. It’s a little soporific as Evie relates the events of her day, ruminating on her past teenage life and what might have been if things had gone differently at a certain high school party. Our suspicions grow that Jim may not have Evie’s best interests at heart, whilst we also vainly hope that she is going to be okay and it is teenage paranoia that is at play.
Writing teenagers can be a fraught exercise as their speech and behaviours change from one minute to the next, as any parent negotiating this age group can tell you. Evie does come across as a generation older at times, but then her character is holding up the novel and needs to mature rapidly with her new reality. There’re a few overused plot drivers in CALL ME EVIE that might make you wince a little – a shaky memory seems to always kick in at the most inconvenient, or inconvenient of times – and if you’re not a fan of flashbacks, this deployment might irritate somewhat.
CALL ME EVIE sits somewhere comfortably between a young adult and mature crime fiction audience and is relentlessly close and foreboding with its promise that bad things are around the corner. Everything from the isolation of the town to the walls of the cabin are put to good use, narrowing Evie’s world to just a few people, sharpening her focus to where it matters. Your dread is drip fed with each encounter Evie has with others, each memory re-examined, each character revealing more of themselves. Take your thrills slowly and thoughtfully with CALL ME EVIE. Your reward will be considerable, we promise.
We are rich with exciting new authors bursting onto the Australia/New Zealand crime fiction scene. So many of them hitting it out of the park with their first works that being a first time novellist is actually a marketing asset in itself – get on board early with new talent! Melbourne based writer J.P. Pomare has written for several literary journals and has hosted a podcast, On Writing, since 2015. CALL ME EVIE is his first novel.