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by Sabine Durrant
Harper Paperbacks, August 2023
338 pages
ISBN: 0063277689

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The settings in SUN DAMAGE contribute significantly to its appeal, be it they the beaches and hotels of the Riviera or a grand country house and bustling market town in Provence. Sabrine Durrant evokes these locales beautifully and it is rather delicious to spend time in such sun-drenched environs, filled with the scents of coconut oil, lavender, coffee and fresh bread.

The main characters are somewhat less appealing, as they are con artists so steeped in their craft that they are virtually incapable of not stealing things out from under the nose of every person they encounter. Sean and Ali are partners, although he has been in the business longer than she has. She is the narrator and from the start the reader gets the sense that while she is very good at what she does, he holds all the cards and does not treat her terribly well.

It's intriguing to watch Ali con people, whether the job is planned and utterly unscrupulous, or spontaneous (she often contrives to get far more change than she's owed from unsuspecting shopkeepers). Durrant succeeds in taking us right into the mind of someone who is so trained and experienced in this sort of crime that it seems to come naturally.

Something goes wrong and the tension ratchets up as Ali goes into hiding via an elaborate and dicey deception, pretending to be someone else, fearing she will be discovered at every moment. The pace, generally very good, slows a little while she adopts this counterfeit persona, allowing the reader to luxuriate in the beauties, scents and flavours of a pampered Provencal holiday.

There are moments that strain believability, where the timing seems to work out too neatly to Ali's advantage, or the people around her seem almost absurdly gullible. However, given Durrant's detailed depiction of Ali as a cunning confident swindler, such moments only give the reader momentary pause. Sometimes descriptions of the protagonist's emotional responses also feel a bit over the top, even if the feelings are justified.

The large cast of characters is varied and interesting. Unexpected plot twists keep one turning the pages and the finale is quite satisfactory. This is not a novel of great depth, but its lovely locations and quick pace make it a perfect cottage/beach/vacation read. It also functions as quite a compendium of tips on how to be a successful con artist!

Meg Westley is a writer and retired educator living in Stratford, Ontario.

Reviewed by Meg Westley, August 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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