In at the Deep End by Penelope Janu
Harlequin Mira, February 2017 (ARC)
This debut novel by Penelope Janu was a pleasant surprise. An uncorrected proof copy turned up unexpectedly and I actually planned to decline reviewing it due to other commitments. I rarely read romantic comedies or women’s fiction novels these days. I decided to read the first page just to get a feel for the writing and found reading the entire first chapter. I’m often wary of reading novels written in first POV but in this novel I completely forgot about it. Janu places the reader immediately in the action and into the mindset of the protagonist, Harriet “Harry” Scott.
The simplest way for me to describe the two main characters: Harry is a grown up Bindi Irwin and and Commander Per Amundsen (aka polarman) is like Aquaman. It makes for an interesting read! That’s just on the surface however, Janu manages to flesh out both of these characters (even Per which is difficult to do from a first person viewpoint) who are both flawed but also very likeable.
A grown up Bindi Irwin meets Aquaman in this romantic comedy set on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Janu touches on some serious issues that underly the fun, light-hearted banter that occurs between Harry and Per. She has a serious phobia that requires treatment before she can achieve her goal of getting back on a ship to film a documentary. As a psychologist I often get annoyed when these issues are resolved too hastily, but the author ensures Harry faces her fears (and reacts to them) in a realistic manner. I enjoyed seeing Harry’s growth in this aspect of her life, from the avoidant and in denial attitude to the more determined and courageous actions she takes to overcome her fears.
Harry and Per are an entertaining and intriguing duo and their relationship is rather volatile at the start. They seem to dislike each other for most of the story, but this just adds to the chemistry and the heightened emotion that magnetises them toward each other. The one thing they both have in common is their passion for the environment, research and increasing awareness of these issues in the general public.
I really liked this novel. When I picked it up the second time, it was New Years Day, and it was hot and I sat inside in the air con all day and did not put this book down. I read it in one day. It’s just one of those books that I picked up at the right time, in the right mood and it hit just the right spot.
If you like a strong, feisty heroine and an alpha male hero with a soft-side then, In at the Deep End is a must read. Set mostly on the Sydney Northern beaches, it’s the perfect summer holiday read. If you can’t get to the ocean, at least you can do it vicariously through this book!
This book was read as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.