Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Travel thriller leaves reader wanting more

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Wanting is dangerous, as the heroine of this haunting tale discovers in a cruel twist of fate. To want and be wanted in volatile circumstances is her undoing. Desire is fickle, after all.

Crouch, a bestselling American author and professor, uncannily captures experiences with friendship, love and lust between university students in this gripping literary thriller.

As her characters adjust to their new-found independence studying in a foreign country, she keeps readers of Abroad in suspense from cover to cover with razor-sharp wit, keen observations and masterful foreshadowing.

Readers meet Tabitha (Taz) Deacon, an Irish Jew seeking freedom, adventure and a chance to put her three years of Italian studies to use, as she packs for her year abroad. In her first few pages, Crouch quells any girlish notions of happy endings. Inspired by actual events, Abroad is a novelization of the 2007 murder of a 21-year-old British woman studying in Italy.

The case made international headlines at the time and remains in the news worldwide as legal proceedings continue. We may never know the truth, but Crouch presents an interesting interpretation in her inventive novel.

Part murder-mystery and part coming-of-age story, Abroad is a narrative about loss -- not only loss of life, but lost innocence, lost trust, and lost opportunities.

With true-crime details, references to Etruscan mythology and thoughtful commentary on the struggles of young woman throughout centuries of Italian history, the author weaves a tangled web of deceptions.

Those who keep their secrets closest to them hold power; Crouch explores this intriguing idea time after time. Success as well as survival depend wholly on the ability of characters to maintain subterfuge. Drawing comparisons to Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Abroad keeps readers enthralled page after page as characters endure the tumult of university life on the brink of womanhood.

References to the classics are as common as instances of drug use, and Crouch captures their whims with dry humour. These young women navigate the twisting alleys and seedy parties of Grifonia, a fictitious Italian city teeming with students, with the naiveté of youth, blind ambition and little regard for consequences.

Those consequences are terrible ones, but the author's examination of the fallout is insightful.

Despite good intentions, relationships between friends, partners, and lovers are fragile. Crouch insists treachery leaves no one unscathed when desire rules. Everyone is left wanting.

For survivors, living with that want is a fate worse than death.


Jennifer Pawluk is a Winnipeg communications specialist.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 G8


Updated on Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 8:35 AM CDT: Formatting.

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