I will preface this by saying that I am very familiar with both Gemma Amor, pictured, and her work. In addition to both being NoSleep Podcast alums, we co-wrote the horror comedy podcast, Calling Darkness, together. I knew going in that I wanted to like her novella, Dear Laura, but I also knew that it wouldn’t be fair to her or myself to give it a glowing review if it was undeserving.
What a relief, then, that Dear Laura was a truly wonderful read.
The story opens with a woman, alone, undertaking an arduous hike through difficult terrain. It’s an apt setting, one that echoes Laura’s entire life leading up to the moment we meet her. She is a creature of isolation, shaped by fear and pain and turmoil. A prisoner to a single event that consumes her whole life.
As a teenager, she witnessed her best friend, Bobby, get into a stranger’s car, never to return. While the world moved on around her, Laura struggled to understand what happened and why. And then the letters started to come. Each year on her birthday, a new demand for some intimate piece of Laura’s young life in return for a clue as to Bobby’s whereabouts, signed only “X”. What follows that first letter is a game of cat and mouse that only gets more dangerous the longer it goes on.
Dear Laura is not what I would call an easy book to sit through. That is not to say it’s not immediately captivating or that it doesn’t beg to be finished in one sitting. It is and it does. But it is a raw read. Amor is unflinching in her approach to her subject’s ongoing torment and you don’t simply observe Laura’s journey; you take it with her. The claustrophobia, the desperate attempts to cope with an impossible situation, the downward spiral of a woman who feels as if she has no way out. And always, always, looming, is X. This is horror at its most painfully and beautifully human, and Amor handles it expertly.
There is no gore, no jump scares, no gratuitous violence (although there is one scene that had me flinching and covering my mouth, you’ll know it when you read it). Amor gets under your skin with bleak imagery and perceived helplessness. It’s not a slow burn, but a steady one that’s ignited on the first page and continues to crackle through to the last sentence.
When I finally finished this book, it was with such a mix of emotions. Frustration, sadness, catharsis. Hope. I actually set it down next to me (and my dog immediately lied on it, as if to say “Ok that’s enough”) and just stared at my hands for a while.
As a fan of psychological thrillers, Dear Laura hit all my checkboxes. Well-paced, believable characters, a storyline that kept me wondering, and a satisfying conclusion to tie it all up.
Instead of a star system, I’m going to keep it simple with a two option one instead: would I or wouldn’t I recommend Dear Laura to fellow readers? I think my answer is clear already, but just in case…Yes. Yes I would.