Breathless, by Amy McCulloch: There’s a Killer on the Mountain (Book review)

That was the thing about mountaineering. It tested every single one of your faculties, in a place that was depriving your brain of oxygen. That’s why it was all about putting actions into logical steps, a series of checks, making steps so foolproof that even when you were being a fool, you wouldn’t get it wrong.

Be bothered.

Keep your gloves tethered to your body. She tightened the straps attached to her gloves round her wrists. She felt like a toddler, with mitten strings running up through the back of her jacket so as she wouldn’t lose them. But she needed it to be toddler-proof.


Cecily, a journalist, has arrived in Nepal to climb to the summit of Manaslu as part of a team led by world-famous mountaineer Charles McVeigh. Manaslu is the last of Charles’ attempt to summit the fourteen highest mountains in the world in under a year without the help of oxygen or ropes. This could be the biggest scoop of Cecily’s career, but in order to get that interview, Charles has told her she has to reach the summit with him.

Cecily is not a climber. In fact she is most well known for a blog post she wrote about not being able to reach the top of Snowdon during the National Three Peaks Challenge she had tried to complete with her boyfriend. Now ex-boyfriend. That’s another of her worries as James is breathing down her neck all the way from London, furious that she has the chance to write the story he thinks should be his.

But that is the least of Cecily’s worries. She has a mountain to climb, she has camping in freezing temperatures and acclimatising to the mountain air to worry about. Also, people keep dying around her in tragic accidents which, as she keeps being reminded, is part of the risk of being on the mountain. But, when she is consistently woken up in the night by the sound of someone prowling and whistling near her tent, she starts to think that maybe these deaths weren’t accidents. Or is that the altitude sickness talking?

If you have ever wondered what it must be like to take on one of the summits in Nepal; what the camps would be like, the sherpas, the food, the waiting for the weather to change, then this is the book for you. It is jam-packed with glorious detail about the gruesomeness and the exhilaration of the climb. But it is also a gripping, fast-paced thriller that has you guessing to the end. Has Cecily become paranoid due to lack of oxygen, or are these deaths not accidents at all?

Cecily frowned. ‘You don’t think what Charles is doing is impressive?’

Ah, no – of course it is impressive. But there are so many big male egos here. Oh sure, it was fine to climb these mountains with ropes and climbing sherpa support and oxygen when it was just men. But now women are starting to get a foot in, suddenly it’s not good enough and you had to go ‘alpine style’ to be a real climber. Fuck them. We deserve to be here just as much as they do.’


I really enjoyed this book. I thought all of the characters were interesting to read (I wouldn’t want to be stuck up a mountain with any of them, apart from the sherpas). And it was perfect to read while I was listening to the wind from Storms Dudley and Eunice whilst being wrapped up cosy under my duvet.

Published by luggageandscribble

Oh hey, just a girl who loves reading.

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