Mystery Thriller

Sundial – Catriona Ward

25 March 2022
Sundial Book Cover Sundial
Catriona Ward
Tor Nightfire

"You can't escape what's in your blood... All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too: a husband, two kids, a nice house in the suburbs. Far from her childhood home, Sundial, hidden deep in the wild Mojave Desert. But beneath the veneer, Rob is terrified for her oldest daughter, Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her too much of the family she left behind. Running from her past has led her directly back to it -- what's buried at Sundial could never stay a secret forever, and Rob must risk one last trip out there to protect her family, and her future"--


Sundial is an intricate psychological thriller that keeps us guessing on the scheming of an array of chilling characters. The frightening machinations and location of the story make for a restless but intriguing reading experience filled with horror and abuse.

Rob is married to Irving with two young daughters, Callie and Annie. Callie is distant with Rob, talks to imaginary friends, and collects tiny bones.

“‘One of our children just tried to kill the other,’ I say. The reality of it sends cold fingers down my spine. ‘Mothers pass things down, don’t they?’ Irving’s voice is soft. ‘The secrets I keep for you, Rob.’”

Their family life doesn’t feel normal, never mind the disturbing childhood Rob experienced with her sister Jack. The story takes us into both worlds and timelines, which Rob and Callie cleverly narrate. Trying to resolve violent suspicions regarding Callie, Rob takes her to her childhood home in the Mojave Desert, to a complex called Sundial.

The history of Sundial, with its animal abuse, physical abuse, drug abuse, and Rob’s malignant memories of her childhood with her sister, paints an ominous atmosphere of horror and dark secrets. Watching the story unfold filled me with fear as incidents result in a gory outcome or near miss. The unpredictability and complexity of the story, while intriguing at times, was also difficult to follow.

I think this is one of those experiences where you get the sense the author forgot about the storytelling and let the convolutions of her imagination take her into a space that not everyone followed. Reflecting on the story, I understand how all the pieces finally fell into place, but how I got here, I don’t know. There was another ‘irrelevant’ storyline within the story as if I wasn’t confused enough. This felt confusing for the most part.

Catriona Ward delivers rich and vivid prose that is a joy to read, and this is best seen in her previous book ‘… Needless Street’. She does dare to dive into dark and horrific tones that keep you in terrifying suspense. What Needless Street brought was a mind-blowing psychological twist, but in this novel, the twists were too confusing and not as compelling. The story’s momentum dropped significantly in the middle sections and nearly resulted in me giving up. I just didn’t enjoy this one as much.

I imagine this book will have significant differences of opinion, and I wrestled with the rating; the most accurate would be 3.5 stars. I want to thank Serpent’s Tail / Viper / Profile Books and NetGalley for providing a free ARC in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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