Review – Dancing on Knives

Dancing on Knives – Kate Forsyth

Vintage Books, 2014

What was meant to be a fresh chance for the Sanchez family has become a nightmare. Having recently returned to painting, turbulent patriarch Augusto was forging a masterwork that would have eased their financial woes and granted his devoted daughter Sara a reprieve from his wild moods – but when he suffers a terrible accident, the family are left reeling with shock and suspicion. Augusto spent so long cultivating his own myth he ignored his own children’s lies. Now they are forced to see each other’s ugly secrets and face the question none of them want to ask: what if Augusto’s fall was not an accident at all?

There’s quite the story behind this book, which is a reworked and republished version of a novel Kate Forsyth published ten years ago under the name Kate Humphrey. The title implies it’s part of her not-exactly-a-series of loose fairy tale retellings, but though there are many references to ‘The Little Mermaid’ this is very much a separate book and not a retelling. It’s not really a mystery either, because no one will acknowledge whether or not there’s actually a crime until a good way through the book, and not much active detecting takes place. Dancing on Knives is really a family drama focusing on Sara, Augusto’s older daughter. Not a dynamic protagonist at the best of times, she’s done a disservice when big chunks of the book drift away from the main plot to explore events in her family’s past. While these certainly explain how she got to be the way she is, they don’t help the reader engage with her life, and there are a few clichés in the Sanchez family that made me a bit uncomfortable. The plot felt too slow and indirect but I should add, the contemplative, almost stream of consciousness style of the book is not a structure that usually appeals to me. I’d have liked Dancing on Knives better if it had capitalised on the tightening sense of claustrophobia and taken a more traditional mystery format.

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