A Dangerous Crossing is a novel that I’ve had on my TBR since April last year since Natalie (@ The Owl on the Bookshelf) very kindly gave me a copy, and now that I’ve read it, I’m kicking myself for having waited for so long.
1939: Europe is on the brink of war when young Lily Shepherd boards an ocean liner in Essex, bound for Australia. She is ready to start anew, leaving behind the shadows in her past. The passage proves magical, complete with live music, cocktails, and fancy-dress balls. With stops at exotic locations along the way—Naples, Cairo, Ceylon—the voyage shows Lily places she’d only ever dreamed of and enables her to make friends with those above her social station, people who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.
But Lily soon realizes that she’s not the only one hiding secrets. Her newfound friends—the toxic wealthy couple Eliza and Max; Cambridge graduate Edward; Jewish refugee Maria; fascist George—are also running away from their pasts. As the glamour of the voyage fades, the stage is set for something sinister to occur. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and Lily’s life will be changed irrevocably.
I love novels that are set in and around this period of time, and I think that Rhys captured it perfectly. The people and their situations, their clothing, their speech all made me feel as though I was there – a casual observer of events aboard the Orontes. And A Dangerous Crossing offers something a little different, as the setting of the ocean liner allows normally observed social boundaries to blur, letting people who wouldn’t normally give each other the time of day meet, talk, and even enjoy each other’s company.
Such is the situation that Lily finds herself in. Heading to Australia to see a little of the world, she intends to take work as a domestic servant once there, but aboard the Orontes she is drawn into the world of socialites Eliza and Max, who she finds to be extravagant and alluring.
Lily finds herself thrown into a state of confusion by the fact of Eliza. How loud she is, how careless of people’s feelings, how exhausting. And yet how dazzling.
Despite warnings from other passengers around a scandal involving the couple, she finds their pull to be irresistible, and even her own gut feeling can’t persuade her to keep her distance from them – something I thought that was a little naïve, and yet it’s easy to see how you might be swayed by their glamour. I’m not sure I’d have behaved differently in the same situation.
In terms of the actual plot, which I won’t discuss in detail, this is a relatively slow-paced novel, but I loved the gradual unfolding of events, and it felt shorter than its 450-odd pages. There are multiple threads to keep the reader engaged – the scandal around Eliza and Max, Edward’s inconsistent behaviour towards Lily, and the issues faced by Maria – and I found each to be intriguing, and I loved that the novel didn’t turn out as I expected it to. There are some wonderfully bold characters in the novel – some more likeable than others – and Lily is a delight, if not entirely sensible at times.
Rachel Rhys is the pseudonym of a well-known psychological suspense author, and her second novel written under this pen name, Fatal Inheritance, will be published in July 2018.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐