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Crime Files – The Turnout by Megan Abbott #BookReview

Ballet flows through their veins. Dara and Marie Durant were dancers since birth, with their long necks and matching buns and pink tights, homeschooled and trained by their mother.

Decades later the Durant School of Dance is theirs. The two sisters, together with Charlie, Dara’s husband and once their mother’s prize student, inherited the school after their parents died in a tragic accident nearly a dozen years ago. Marie, warm and soft, teaches the younger students; Dara, with her precision, trains the older ones; and Charlie, back broken after years of injuries, rules over the back office.

Circling around each other, the three have perfected a dance, six days a week, that keeps the studio thriving. But when a suspicious accident occurs, just at the onset of the school’s annual performance of The Nutcracker, a season of competition, anxiety, and exhilaration, an interloper arrives and threatens the delicate balance of everything they’ve worked for.

The Turnout by Megan Abbott book cover

Title: The Turnout | Author: Megan Abbott | Publisher: GP Putnam | Pages: 352 | ISBN: 9780593084908 | Publication date: 3 August 2021 | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Publisher

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The Turnout Review

‘The Turnout’ might be the very definition of the slow burn crime novel. For the first two thirds or so very little happens. It’s richly atmospheric and has a wonderful sense of claustrophobia, and it kept me reading, despite the lack of incident. And then the final third happens and believe me, the wait is worth it.

This is a book with a plot very much in the style of 40s and 50s film noir. There’s simmering desire, betrayal, murder and, in that final third, twist after twist. Megan Abbott uses the ballet school setting brilliantly, packing in some fascinating detail about the lives of young dancers. There’s a sub plot running throughout about preparations for a staging of The Nutcracker and she uses this to introduce drama around competition between the students, as well as the pressure on the two sisters who run the school.

The kicking off point for the main plot is the seduction of one of the sisters by their aggressively masculine contractor and the book is ripe with themes around female sexuality. Abbott dissects the Nutcracker itself as tale of sexual awakening, but also writes in detail about the desires and erotic drivers of twenty something and middle aged women. I’m not sure I’d say that she does this with great subtlety, but the themes work perfectly with the plot and the book hangs together as a very satisfying whole.

The characters are somewhat archetypal and very familiar from the old movies that Abbott is deliberately aping. Like the themes, that doesn’t mean they don’t work. In fact this is a book where all the elements mesh together brilliantly. Characters, atmosphere, story and subtext compliment each other in a way that’s quite rare in popular fiction. Most importantly for a crime novel, despite the slow build up it’s gripping throughout and the acceleration of events in the final act is breathtakingly well done.

Content Warning:

Domestic violence, incest, child abuse, underage sex, bullying

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Published inBook ReviewsCrime FilesStarred Reviews

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