Phillipa Ashley's fourth and latest novel is a chip off the old block: her fans everywhere will love it. `It Should Have Been Me' tells the story of Carrie, battered and bruised by the breakdown of her ten year relationship with solid farmer fiancé Huw, to whom she had been about to be married. Her friend Rowena - fellow stalwart of the local am dram - decides that what she needs is a bracing girls-only road trip in a vintage VW camper van (known to the initiated as a `splitty' after the unusual split windscreen), in search of sun, sand and (if it happens to turn out that way) uncomplicated sex. Things take a surprising turn when Rowena is offered a chance-of-a-lifetime acting job in London, and persuades the sexy Matt Landor to stand in as Carrie's travelling companion.
In a way, the result of this month of enforced close proximity is never in doubt - and yet the path by which we reach the typically sweet ending is never predictable for a moment. The story unfolds with all the usual, wonderful Ashley ingredients: tensions and misunderstandings aplenty, a wealth of quirky and individual supporting characters (including a clan of hippy surfers) and a great many laughs as well as poignant moments - all of it set against the backdrop of the beautiful west country coastline.
The central romance is carefully crafted for a slow, believable build. Humanitarian doctor Matt, with his own troubled past, cuts a powerfully magnetic figure, and Carrie is a typical Ashley heroine: sensitive and vulnerable but also tough and sassy - a woman who can take down a floral display with a jet of hosed water as soon as look at you.
`It Should have Been Me' is a great romp, a page-turner from start to finish. But it is also tender and sweet - I defy you to finish it without a smile on your face and a lump in your throat!