“An Anonymous Girl” is the second psychological thriller novel co-authored by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen after their bestseller, “The Wife Between Us”. Through the first half of the novel, I admit to having been drawn, finding myself curious to see how the story unravels. This is the kind of psychological thriller that keeps you on your toes — distorts your judgments then draws you back to square one as soon as you find yourself betrayed. And just when you thought you are at the height of uncovering the lies and the secrets, you then become aware of the unlikelihood — like digging deep for fine treasures only to be fooled by run-of-the-mill trinkets. But that is not to say that the novel lacks literary merit. The narrative is both sententious and emphatic and the triggers explored (mental health, self-harm, sexual assault) are perennial social issues that continue to raise awareness. The novel also explores the elements of psychological and emotional manipulation to gain power and control over people, while narrating the perspectives of both sides of the power matrix: the manipulator and the subservient.
Goodreads book description:
Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.
When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave.
Question #1: Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?
But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking… and what she’s hiding.
Question #2: Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?
As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.
Question #3: Should a punishment always fit the crime?
POINT OF VIEW, WRITING STYLE & ATMOSPHERE
The novel made use of two first-person POV to help the readers analyze the thoughts of the two main characters. Dr. Shields’ segments were written using the first person POV concurrently shifting to a second-person POV whenever she refers to Jessica as “You”, detailing her observations of Subject 52. It provided a sense of foreboding, characterized by a hint of clinical authority and faultlessness. This technique revealed an air of superiority and arrogance to Dr. Shields’ character. The reader becomes simultaneously immersed in the story, taking in the effect of being directly addressed. Her lines bordered on measured responses, followed by dominating remarks such as “you will all be mine” and “How dare you, Jessica”, which says a lot about her controlling and unforgiving persona.
The authors’ writing style varies depending on whose POV is being narrated. Jessica’s narrative made use of simple, straightforward words and short sentences. Dr. Shields’, on the other hand, was chronicled with long sentences, complex and emphasized words. The technique is done to individualize each of the characters.
The novel’s atmosphere is dark, suspenseful and mysterious. The alternate POV provides a shifting of tone from Jessica’s doubtful at times fearful but vulnerable thoughts to Dr. Shields’ menacing and controlling approach.
Morality and Ethics
Overall, “An Anonymous Girl” delivers what is expected of a psychological thriller pitting two female characters against each other. There is not much of a plot twist but what makes this novel compelling are the minor twists and turns that divert the attention from the usual verdict/s. Other characters were put into play keeping the reader confused about their true intentions, diffusing initial thoughts as the story progresses. Despite the thrilling ride, my high expectations suddenly robbed me of a satisfying ending. In my mind, things were supposed to have ended differently. I was struck dumb when Dr. Shields’ character was left with no choice but to succumb to her final sacrificial act to prove her love for her husband. It suddenly felt anticlimactic — how she fiercely uses her intellect, power, influence, and profession to assert her carefully laid plans–only to be dismissed by her husband’s subtle accusation. Then, I was suddenly made aware that the authors went full circle by addressing one of the questions Dr. Shields asked on her survey: “Should a punishment always fit the crime?” that I was suddenly lost for words. It dawned on me how it all made sense — Dr. Shields taking her own life not just for Thomas but to atone for what she did to April — a testament validating what could have been her own response to that one particular ethical question. Apart from a few misgivings, this novel is a page-turner that keeps you up until the end. It will make you question the boundaries of morality and ethics when it comes to marriage just as it would let you examine how far you will go to save someone you love.
How does one deal with an ever-expanding TBR pile? I do wonder. And probably there will never be an answer to this perennial struggle of bookworms and bibliophiles alike because writers will never run out of ideas. Consequently, readers will never settle for a “final book purchase”. Stories will keep on coming and there will never be a shortage of TBRs.
Here is my list of books I am hoping to read by the end of the year:
Author: Erin Morgenstern
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world–a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.
What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.
Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.
The Family Upstairs
Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Mystery & Thriller
From the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and Watching You comes another page-turning look inside one family’s past as buried secrets threaten to come to light.
Be careful who you let in.
Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.
She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.
Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.
In The Family Upstairs, the master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction
From New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman comes the thrilling conclusion to the Printz Honor–winning series Arc of a Scythe.
It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver. In this pulse-pounding conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.
City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Genre: Historical Fiction
From the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things, a delicious novel of glamour, sex, and adventure, about a young woman discovering that you don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person.
Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.
Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.
In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves-and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.
Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time, she muses. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is. Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Author: Alix E. Harrow
In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.
Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.
Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic.
Girl, Woman, Other
Author: Bernardine Evaristo
Genre: Literary Fiction
From one of Britain’s most celebrated writers of color, Girl, Woman, Other is a magnificent portrayal of the intersections of identity and a moving and hopeful story of an interconnected group of Black British women. Shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and the Gordon Burn Prize, Girl, Woman, Other paints a vivid portrait of the state of post-Brexit Britain, as well as looking back to the legacy of Britain’s colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean.
The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, is a successful investment banker; Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.
Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative fast-moving form that borrows technique from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that shows a side of Britain we rarely see, one that reminds us of all that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart.
Author: Stephen King
In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”
In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.
As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.
A Woman Is No Man
Author: Etaf Rum
Genre: Literary Fiction
This debut novel by an Arab-American voice takes us inside the lives of conservative Arab women living in America.
In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is starting to meet with suitors. Though she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam. Though Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.
Author: Elizabeeth Strout
Genre: Literary Fiction
The iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but also the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace
The Nickel Boys
Author: Colson Whitehead
Genre: Historical Fiction
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is a high school senior about to start classes at a local college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.
The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision with repercussions that will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
These are just a few. I have no words to describe all the wonderful books that have been published this year alone. Do you have the same list as I do?
Would love to hear which books you are hoping to read before the year ends.
There are stories told that speak of sad, vengeful events that took place in a person’s life. And there are stories left untold, long cast into oblivion. While some are forgotten, others serve as a reminder of one’s past. Stories can either transform or break, and mend broken things in due time. These are the stories surrounding every character in the novel, “Ask Again, Yes” by Mary Beth Keane. The novel underscores the importance of forgiveness, acceptance, and of love. One that reminds its readers how anger, hatred and vengeance set off a series of events that could destroy lives.
Point of View, Writing Style, & Atmosphere
The author made use of a third-person omniscient point of view, multiple timelines, parallel structure, beautiful imagery, and lengthy, at times, complex sentences that reveal a lot about each character. It can be observed that the author is very detailed in her choice of dialogues and descriptive narrative (again, the author made use of long, continuous sentences) to create a variety of effects for the readers mainly for dramatic execution.
The conflicts explored in the novel exist between individuals; individuals and society; and individual versus himself. The novel explores the conflict between the two families brought about by a trick of fate and not by intentions. It also delves into the relationship between Kate and Peter and how they have struggled against the repercussions of the tragedy that separated them. Each of the main characters had to resolve internal struggles by overcoming their true nature (i.e Anne and her mental issues, Peter and his alcohol addiction, Francis’ discrimination against the Stanhopes, and Kate’s vindictive nature against Anne).
Power of love, forgiveness, and redemption
Themes of love, forgiveness, and redemption are evident, arranged sequentially as one tragedy after another led the characters to accept their flaws and loosen their hold on hatred.
The novel’s brilliance is credited to its depiction of mental illness which raises awareness globally. The author narrated how Anne’s behavior came about as a result of childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and the loss of her first child. One could observe the stark contrast between how mental issues were addressed during Anne’s time compared to the present. It also covered how mental illness tends to run in families as a result of both genetic and social factors. The book communicates how fatal the consequences are if mental health patients are left untreated, continuously ignored and stereotyped.
Marriage is a common theme in literary fiction. It bears a contagious effect on its readers because of how easily they can relate. Like there is an immediate but unseen link that connects the fictional characters to the readers. The novel explores the grounds why marriages crumble and fail as evident in Anne and Brian’s marriage — how Brian failed as a husband to address his wife’s descent into madness. Francis’ relationship with Lena may not be entirely blissful but they loved each other very much and both were responsible parents to their three girls. But the tragic accident that happened to Francis broke him–made him both vulnerable and indifferent. Kate and Peter’s marriage started off on the right foot but as Peter descends into the same path that his parents went through, Kate’s love for Peter became their saving factor. It can be said that Kate’s fate was similar to her mother’s, while Peter’s a reflection of Francis’. Lena and Kate’s remarkable strength, loyalty, and ability to forgive salvaged their marriage.
There is so much more to say about this book. It is truly a beautifully crafted literary work that is much deserving of all the praise and recognition. Although the book is not an easy-read, it manages to get you hooked because of how the characters’ lives were changed by a tragedy, and how a new one brought them back together.
I stumbled upon “My Lovely Wife” by Samantha Downing while searching for recommended fiction thrillers for 2019. I have read quite a few psychological thrillers in my lifetime that while some were presumably predictable, there were still those that surprised me. This fast-paced novel sent shivers down my spine but also made me laugh and cringe at the same time. I have also questioned some character behaviors but those tiny flaws did not stop me from devouring this book. “My Lovely Wife” reminded me of a similar domestic thriller, “Gone Girl” – the first of the many novels that altered my preference from historical fiction to murder mystery and thrillers. “Gone Girl” set the pace for succeeding thriller novels because its ending was not what most readers expected.
The story follows an unmistakably normal suburban couple, who have transitioned from a struggling life raising their two kids to becoming part of an upper middle class family residing in an affluent residential area. Millicent and her husband’s marriage bordered on conventional but the two decided to spice things up a bit by plotting the disturbing murders of two women or so we think.
The author initially outlined how pragmatic Millicent and her husband’s everyday struggles were. From their early dreams of building a family, setting up rules for their kids, making ends meet, to how they were able to build their network–socializing with all the right people, and finally purchasing the house they’ve always wanted. One may forgive the seemingly typical setup this family had but the whole shooting match that I found normal, relatable, and realistic ended up until that point. Everything else was macabre and disturbing.
The amusing relationship that Millicent and her husband shared is the central force of this novel. At one point you’ll love the intensity of the husband’s show of allegiance and his need to prove himself useful to his wife to the point of utter idiocy. But his constant urge to assert himself while struggling countless reservations to question Millicent’s actions shrouded him from the trap his wife had laid out for him from the onset. One may find the husband’s inferior character as hateful but what would turn things around for him was his love for his children.
Millicent, on the other hand, was a combination of manipulative and genius but unquestionably vile. Nothing stays hidden under her watchful eye. The magnificent thing about this novel was how Downing introduced how cunning of a character Millicent was–blood in her hands and all–but somehow I had hoped she may not have been totally responsible for all the murders — that an unexpected plot twist will be revealed toward the end that redeems her but boy was I truly mistaken.
Needless to say, this book gave me all sorts of emotions and my responses hinge on a scale of WTF moments (pardon my French). Though there were times I got really confused with the writing style (overlapping timelines), I still highly recommend this book. That being said, this book was beautifully written. The writer used short but poignant words and the dialogues were written to reveal much about the characters. Downing’s tone was casual but concurrently humorous which totally made the book fun and enjoyable to read despite its dark atmosphere.
The novel being a domestic thriller is just the tip of the iceberg. “My Lovely Wife” treads on the consequences of mistrust and being reckless. It also talks about the effects of crime and human violations on children as exposed through social media and how important it is for parents to set a good example for their kids. Mental health is another core topic covered by this book as it explores Millicent’s childhood as well as her husband’s — how their impulses laid the foundation for their crimes. Samantha Downing’s debut novel is a tour de force and there is nothing more I could ask for.
Søren Sveistrup’s “The Chestnut Man” had been one of my most anticipated reads for 2019. My fascination with Nordic noir has increased tremendously since Jo Nesbo’s “The Snowman”. I wouldn’t say I am used to the gruesome imagery abounding in crime novels because I do cringe, pause, breathe for a few seconds, at times deciding not to continue, but who am I kidding? I love the genre! The exhilarating sensation that fills me up every time I read a crime book is so palpable that I would probably have transported to the scene of the crime many times and do the investigating myself. But the brutality against the remote landscape and cold winters of Scandinavia fabricates an irony of horrors that Sveistrup’s debut novel has in store for his readers.
The Chestnut Man introduces us to its main protagonists, Naia Thulin, a young detective working under the Major Crimes Division, and Mark Hess, a seasoned detective recently discharged from Europol. Together, they go about a mission hunt for a psychopath terrorizing Copenhagen, leaving a “chestnut man” — a handmade doll made out of two chestnuts and matchsticks, at every crime scene.
The first chapter of the book ushered us into an incident that happened back in 1989. Marius, a police officer, was tasked to look into the farmhouse of a certain resident named Ørum, to discuss with him the troubles caused by some of his animals that have broken through the fence, roaming the neighbors’ field. What was supposed to be a normal police workday turned out to be Marcus’ worst ordeal. Instead of finding Ørum, Marcus discovered three lifeless bodies, brutally murdered, and that of a boy who fortunately was alive. Marcus alerted the police and asked for an ambulance when he remembered that the boy had a twin. Instinctively, Marcus searched for the girl, found her tiny shape hidden beneath a table in the corner. As he searched around the room, he began to realize what the room was used for and his discovery of countless chestnut dolls and animals, unfinished and malformed, strayed his mind from the true horror that stood before him. His last vision was that of the boy he found alive, striking an ax against his jaw. This chapter allowed its readers to delve into the battered psyche of the antagonist. The details, however, won’t be revealed until the end.
The succeeding chapters of the novel revealed present-day events as Thulin and her newly-assigned partner, Hess, trailed one murder crime after another. The victims were all women, brutally murdered–body parts lopped off with a saw, fashioned similarly to a chestnut doll. All three victims shared similar clues: a chestnut man discovered at each crime scene, and the fingerprints found on each doll, were that of a government minister’s daughter who had been kidnapped and murdered the previous year. The horrifying state of the murders, as well as the trails left by the serial killer, provoked Thulin and Hess to settle their differences in order to stop the madman and save innocent lives.
Sveinstrup didn’t fail at how he translated the depiction of gore and butchery into words. The author’s writing style was direct and blunt but perceptibly graphic and one can’t help but probably skip a few lines that were too heavy to mentally digest. The novel also delved into the politics behind certain decisions on social affairs and presented a detailed police procedural narrative, ratcheting up the tension as the motive behind the murders starts to unravel. Overall, “The Chestnut Man” clearly lived up to the hype and expectations of Nordic crime lovers–one that will make you not look at chestnuts the same way ever again.
Ruth Ware’s, fifth novel, The Turn of the Key, has been calling the shots early on in the literary fiction game. I have been an avid fan of mystery/thriller novels, and Ruth Ware is no stranger to the genre. I have only read one of her novels, The Girl in Cabin 10, but that one didn’t strike a chord as much as The Turn of the Key did which is mostly attributed to the latter’s writing style which is characterized by an infusion of Gothic elements and slow-building suspense. I have seen mixed reviews of the novel but on average, it has sustained itself at 4 out of 5 stars.
What appealed to me first hand was the way the author narrated the story. The protagonist, Rowan Caine, was introduced to have been writing letters to a lawyer from prison. It took quite a few attempts before she finally narrated the events leading to her current predicament – for the sole purpose of pleading her case before a jury. Rowan was forthright in her claim of innocence to the murder of a child which took place at the Heatherbrae House to which she was employed as a nanny. The events surrounding Rowan’s employment under Bill and Sandra Elincourt, from the time she unexpectedly stumbled across the ad to her nightmarish plight ending up to her trial for murder, make up this overwrought and clandestine masterpiece of a novel.
The mounting tension that progressed in the novel was primarily due to Rowan’s unreliability as a narrator. There were times that I have doubted her motives as were mentioned several times in the novel. Her character thoughts allowed the readers to question her intentions based on her wavering actions and attempt at perfection. It wasn’t until the end that her true intention was finally exposed.
I also loved how the author fused Gothic elements and advanced technology together to create a perfect balance of mystery (think Panic Room and The Haunting of Hill House). It had become an effective tool in distinguishing the novel from classic writing. I find it mighty brilliant how the author narrated Rowan’s train journey as reminiscent of classic gothic tales then jolts us once Rowan sees the Elincourt’s Tesla and the Heatherbrae House’s Victorian foundation equipped with modern technology. The fusion of the old and the new balances the novel’s take on mystery. For example, the discovery of the attic, the secret garden containing the broken down statue of a woman, the eerie footsteps at night, the porcelain doll’s head, and the menacing history of the Heatherbrae House, were just a few of the gothic devices Ware had used to create the atmosphere of terror. On the other hand, Ware’s inclusion of modern technology (the Happy app), suspends the feeling of terror but replaces the sentiment with something more sinister–the feeling that you are being watched and your privacy invaded. It also distinguishes the novel from its classic counterpart the Turn of the Screw by Henry James. While James’ novel was quite ambiguous, Ware’s take on the cult classic relied on Rowan’s character as a practical, non-superstitious woman who doesn’t take things as they are but gathers shreds of evidence and plausible explanations rather than the admission of extra-mundane occurrences.
Foreshadowing elements were abundant in the novel such as the discovery of the decayed crow found in the attic and the presence of the purple flower signifying death. The novel was never short of the usual hallmarks of the mystery genre such as suspicious characters in the guise of Jack Grant, Mrs. McKenzie, both Sandra and Bill Elincourt, and the three children.
The author also made clever use of mirroring when we compare Rowan’s fate with the fate of Dr. Kenwick Grant. Both have been accused of the death of a child although, the truth of Elspeth Grant’s death was unknown. The parallelism was well-executed which also served as a form of foreshadowing — how Rowan felt when she had seen articles concerning Elspeth’s death; how she had a sudden urge of sympathy for the nanny who fortunately was not present at the time of the scandal. It was after all an ominous narrative that would befall on Rowan instead.
The Turn of the Key is an intelligent, well-crafted novel that knocks you out of your preconceived notions and suspicions. It is a novel that speaks of fears, betrayal, and the need for acceptance. Ultimately, I believe the story was about love and sacrifice which ended with a cliffhanger, and for which I believe was the writer’s way of making the readers realize the sacrifice that Rowan did. The novel succeeded in disconcerting whatever predictions you may have as it did mine. Ware’s masterful storytelling exposes the conundrums of the human psyche in relation to our evil motives versus guilt, revenge versus forgiveness, and malevolence versus conscience. Overall, this novel is highly recommended because of the controversial connection that Rowan had with the characters and how the author managed to weave a powerful story strong enough to linger.
This book jolted me out of my usual nonchalant attitude towards romance novels because that’s what I initially thought this novel was about. I admit having not read the book blurb when I purchased it, which I normally do to rid myself of expectations. So yes, I heartily thought this was a romance novel, with no hint whatsoever that it involved gruesome tales of murder and dismemberment. With my initial thoughts at hand of the novel’s predictability, I was mistaken. I loved this book. I have not read anything of this kind yet. The narrative was coherent but filled with raw emotions and unpretentious dialogues. There was an utter chill to the story that for me will bite the readers hard, and could strike a chord setting off triggers long dormant. I am of course referring to our skeletons in the closet because who doesn’t? Although the ending may have gotten differently than what I had in mind, it still ended irrevocably well.
The story was set in the present time at the trial of Calvin James, a.k.a The Sweetbay Strangler, who was convicted of the murder of Angela Wong which transpired fourteen years ago. Georgina Shaw, Angela’s best friend, was charged with a five-year sentence in prison being Calvin James’ accomplice. She was sixteen at that time. Geo was at the trial narrating how she was there when Calvin murdered Angela, dismembered her body and buried the body parts in the woods close to her home. Geo’s testimony and conviction ended all the privileges she had in life as a big-time executive, earning a mid-six-figure salary, and concluded her engagement to Shipp Pharmaceutical’s CEO, Andrew Shipp. A five-year stint in prison may not be long enough, but it meant losing grip of any future life could give her. Geo’s other best friend, Kaiser Brody, who was the detective on the case, was disgruntled and furious at her for having lied all those years about Angela’s death. Fourteen years ago, the three of them: Angela, Geo, and Kai were the best of friends. They had a solid friendship which ended when Geo chose to keep quiet.
Geo’s life at the Hazelwood Correctional Institute was nothing short of what she expected. She knew she had to tough it out otherwise her every move could be her demise. She was sexually assaulted by one of the inmates but her decision to ally herself with Ella Frank deposited her in all the right places, making her life in prison livable and bearable. Kai once visited Geo demanding if she had been in contact with Calvin after the man was convicted of his crime. Geo was taken aback and denied any communications with Calvin. When Kai asked her again about the note that Calvin slipped into her after the trial, Geo denied the incident but she was fully aware of the words Calvin had written her: “You’re welcome.” Kai warned Geo that she had to be careful because Calvin escaped from prison and could be after her.
Geo’s five-year sentence went by but what was supposed to be her new chance at life inched her back to the horrors of the past. Two new victims were discovered nearly at the same place where Angela’s remains were found. This time, the victims were a woman and an almost two-year-old child. Kai attributed the murders to Calvin because the victims were killed similarly to Angela Wong. Kai was once again on the hunt for Calvin and could not help but connect Geo to the murders. Geo assured Kai that she had no contact with Calvin whatsoever but she was quite disheveled of the murder clues that somehow felt related to her. On the child’s chest was drawn a heart with the words “See Me” reminding her of Calvin’s penchant for hearts. It was also discovered that the lipstick used to etch the heart was a part of Geo’s product line when she was still working at Shipp’s Pharmaceuticals. Kai soon found out that the murdered woman had a prior relationship with Calvin and that the murdered child was his son, who was sent up for adoption. Things turned for the worse as Geo reaped hatred from her neighbors who wanted her out of the neighborhood. She also had to endure the repeated attacks of hate vandalism and the constant rejection of her job applications.
Kai started to reconnect with Geo in a way that he had always wanted ever since they were in high school. Geo had always known about Kai’s love for her, but she ended whatever hope he had for them. But having Kai around made her realize that she wanted him after everything around her fell apart. They made love and Kai had no qualms given the circumstances. Geo was the woman he had loved since he was fourteen and he felt he had no choice but to be with her.
New murder victims were found: another woman named Sasha and a four-year-old child. It was soon confirmed that the girl was also Calvin’s child but was sent up for adoption. Two similar cases which led Kai to probe further. When Kai visited Sasha’s grandmother, he learned that before him, there was a young man from social services who was also looking for Sasha wanting to find out what had happened to her child. This information sheds new light on the case, and Kai’s partner hinted Calvin James may not be the culprit after all.
Geo’s thoughts went back to the night of the murder. She recalled being drunk at Chad Fenton’s party that she decided to leave. She looked for Angela and found her with her so-called boyfriend, Mike, and told her she had to go. It was then that Kaiser found her, alarmed that she was wasted. He led Geo to the laundry room and offered to take her home to which Geo declined. It was then that Kai opened up about his true feelings for her but Geo dismissed him saying she loved Calvin. Kai was obviously hurt but he kissed her and Geo kissed him back. It was a gentle kiss unlike how she felt with Calvin, but Geo soon pushed him away and ended whatever it was Kai was hoping for to happen. Geo was leaving when Angela caught up with her. The two girls decided to go over at Calvin’s place. At Calvin’s, Angela was her usual flirty self when she wanted something and it was quite obvious to Geo what she was doing. Angela turned up the stereo and started dancing while Calvin flirted with Geo. Bolstered by the booze, Geo and Angela decided to heat things by making out which visibly turned on Calvin. He soon joined the two girls but Geo excused herself when she suddenly felt the room spinning. The last thing she saw before she passed out was Calvin pulling Angela closer and wrapping his arms around her as they danced.
By the time Geo woke up, the music had stopped and all she could hear was a grunt, followed by heavy breathing. It was when she spotted Calvin on the love seat on top of Angela thrusting himself into her. At first, Geo could not believe what she was seeing but it wasn’t for long before she sees Angela’s eyes as if begging Calvin to stop. It finally dawned on Geo that the sex wasn’t consensual but forced.
Angela was whimpering as Calvin in defense explained to Geo how Angela wanted it. Calvin even called her a “whore” to which Angela screamed that he raped her. Geo knew what was coming. She wanted to warn her best friend – to ask her to stop screaming at Calvin because she knew the monster within. Angela went on with her rage when Calvin suddenly punched her in the face. Angela made a run for the door but Calvin caught up with her and with the use of his belt, he strangled Angela to death. Geo could not believe what was happening. All she could remember was Calvin asking her to help him with Angela’s body. Her thoughts were scattered but her mind was suddenly alerted to the situation. She directed Calvin to the woods near her house where they buried the body.
When news of Angela’s disappearance reached everyone’s ears, Geo kept mum on the subject. She gradually pulled away from everyone. It wasn’t just her guilt about what happened to Angela. Not just her fears of being found out – of being dragged to jail for what she and Calvin did. She pulled away from life when she found out she was pregnant. It happened a few days after Angela’s death when Calvin sneaked into Geo’s bedroom. He just wanted to ask Geo how she was and she told her that she could take no more of the lies. Calvin reminded her to say nothing or else they will both go to jail. He came to say he loved her and that he had to leave and even asked her if she would go with him. Geo would have just let him go but Calvin took whatever was left of her that night – her innocence and whatever goodness she had left of herself. He took her virginity without her consent. He raped her just as he did Angela.
Geo may have taken part in burying Angela’s body but she was no murderer. She decided against abortion and connected herself to an adoption agency to choose her child’s would-be adoptive parents. She interviewed several couples and finally decided on Nori and Mark Kent. Her decision had nothing to do with the couple’s eligibility, she chose them simply because she trusted her judgment. Geo gave birth to her son and was soon handed over to his adoptive parents. They named him Dominic John and they all agreed to a semi-open adoption that would allow Dominic to get in touch with Geo should he decide on his terms.
She held on to the pile of letters she had received while she was in prison. Letters which she couldn’t bear to read while she was there. By now, she was able to read them all. Letters that were sent to her by her son, Dominic. It turned out Geo made another error in judgment when she chose Mark and Nori instead of older, more qualified foster parents. In the years that followed after the couple adopted Dominic, Mark and Nori got divorced. Mark went off with a new wife while Nori, devastated, had several boyfriends, one of whom, sexually assaulted Dominic. Nori died in a car crash leaving Dominic under the care of foster services. How could Geo have known that she had delivered her son to a life she never wanted him to have? She decided to get in touch with her son through Facebook holding on to the slightest possibility that she could still make things right for him. Dominic was quick to reply. Geo would have wanted to meet him but she wasn’t sure if Dominic would be up to it. He might not yet be prepared or may not want to. Geo was wrong because her son wanted to meet her that day.
Dominic John was a spitting image of Calvin. He went inside Geo’s house, admired the family photos, and soon after began questioning her about his life, his family, his father. Geo answered Dominic’s questions truthfully. But the questions became harsh, accusing, but it wasn’t until Dominic started asking about the murders — how her son relayed the facts about how his father had killed the women and drew hearts on the children’s chest with lipstick, that the truth finally dawned on her. The details were not revealed to the public. The cases were still being investigated. The only explanation as to why her son could have known about everything as if he orchestrated it all. Calvin was not responsible for the recent murders. Geo realized that her son had become a monster just like his father. But he didn’t get it all from his father because the moment the murder victims were discovered, how the bodies were cut into pieces, she knew Calvin didn’t commit those crimes. Her son got it from her instead.
It was revealed that Geo was the one who decided to cut up Angela’s body into pieces. That it wasn’t Calvin at all. He was, for a lack of a better term, a wimp. When Geo asked him to cut up Angela, he was hesitant. It was the first time Geo felt how vulnerable Calvin was and how strong she appeared. She had the guts to finish what Calvin started. Geo cut up Angela’s body with ease while Calvin was left to dig the earth.
Dominic pinned his mother on the floor, licked the side of her face with the tip of his tongue, with one hand at her throat while the other hand yanks her leggings down. Geo fought back hard. She saw the monster in his brown eyes – eyes that her son got from her. She was gradually slipping into oblivion when she felt Dominic being ripped away. It was Calvin. Father and son. Calvin had just saved her but Calvin had no idea who he was protecting her from. Geo uttered the words, explaining to Calvin that Dominic was their son. Calvin was shocked. She had gone to explain how and why things had to end this way. Dominic laughed. A sinister one. He revealed how much she hated Geo–how much he despised her for sending him up for adoption to parents who just made his life miserable. He hated the fact that Calvin’s children had good mothers but he couldn’t. Dominic murdered those children to hurt Geo, not Calvin.
Calvin asked Georgina to leave but she knew that they will kill one another once she does. Calvin implied that she should go, that people like him and Dominic should not exist. She stared at her son and Calvin, and she knew they were both irredeemable. They have become monsters who can no longer be pardoned. That hurt people will continue to hurt others. She knew what she had to do. She got the gun she had long been hiding under her pillow and fired twice. One aimed at her son and one at Calvin. Geo took her son in her arms and cradled him. She sees Calvin twitch then fires another one at his head.
Geo stands before Angela’s grave. She had brought roses and began scattering the petals around. She said “I love you” to her best friend out loud and smiled. She then moved to her mother’s grave under the shade. She sat in between her mother’s and the one nearest it. Dominic laid under the marble grave that she recently had made. Kaiser calls her asking if she was alright. She said she was as she touched her growing belly.
“A Stranger in the House” is Canadian author, Shari Lapena’s, fourth novel. It tells the story of Karen Krupp, who got into a car accident after, as witnesses have claimed, she fled from home unexpectedly. Her husband, Tom, was confounded upon learning of his wife’s tragedy and started having doubts as to why Karen fled from their home in haste. Tom knew his wife so well that he could never piece together why Karen was said to have rushed out like hell, left her purse, failed to lock the doors on her way out, and for having driven recklessly, running red lights in a deprived part of town. He claimed that her actions were very unlikely of her. To make matters worse, Karen became a person of interest in a murder case that presumably occurred that same night.
Karen may have survived the accident but it gave her a concussion which resulted in temporary amnesia. She could not remember the events that happened prior to and during the car accident. The police detectives handling the case were dubious thinking how convenient it was for Karen to feign amnesia so she could avoid being questioned.
Without much evidence to indict her, Karen returned home. But things started to change drastically as Tom began questioning Karen’s innocence. Karen also started to sense that someone had been turning things around in their house. Tom was also questioned where he was the night his wife had the accident. He revealed that he was supposed to meet their neighbor, Brigid, who asked to see Tom by the river only she didn’t show up. Brigid had wanted to talk to Tom about a strange man who had been snooping around their house the morning of the accident. She further recounted that when she asked who he was, the man replied that he was an old friend of Karen from another life.
The trail leading to the investigation slowly revealed dark secrets of Karen’s and Tom’s past. Karen found out that Tom had a prior relationship with her best friend and neighbor, Brigid. By the same token, Tom was astonished upon learning that his wife had a prior life as a legally married woman who faked her death to escape her abusive husband. The husband as it turned out, was Robert Traynor, the same man who was murdered the night of Karen’s accident. All evidence led to Karen as the suspect, to which her best friend, Brigid, was excited about. It turned out that Brigid’s marriage to her husband Bob had long been lifeless and her secret affair with Tom was the only thing that brought her back to life. Brigid found answers to her depressing life the moment she started seeing Tom. She had felt lonely and unaccounted for by her husband, and the failed fertility treatments didn’t help either. When Tom ended their affair, Brigid just couldn’t accept it. Tom and Karen’s almost perfect marriage ignited Brigid’s jealousy and hatred all the more. It had been Brigid’s desire all along for Tom and Karen’s marriage to end. Karen’s predicament could not have come at a better time.
Brigid then got things rolling by confessing to Tom the reason why she failed to show up at their meeting place by the river. She told Tom that she followed Karen the night she left the house in a hurry. Karen’s actions were odd which brought Brigid to tail Karen up until the restaurant where Robert Traynor’s body was found. Brigid further narrated that she saw Karen wearing pink rubber gloves and was carrying a gun then walked towards the rear part of the restaurant. She then heard three gunshots then saw Karen leave the building as if escaping towards her car. By the time Karen had left, Brigid went inside and found the dead man. Tom was astonished and Brigid took note of his fears that Brigid being a witness would incriminate Karen. Brigid blackmailed Tom that the only way to silence her was for him to sleep with her. But Brigid’s plans didn’t end there. Brigid sent an anonymous tip to the police to search the Krupp’s house for the missing murder weapon. The police did a thorough search of the house and evidently found the missing gun in the garage that was used to kill Robert Traynor. It was Brigid who apparently planted the gun in the garage to implicate Karen.
Karen and Tom were shocked upon learning that the gun was found at their place when it wasn’t even there when the police first searched their house. Karen claimed how unlikely that she would hide the gun where she lives. Pieces of the puzzle started falling into place as Karen finally arrived at the conclusion that it was Brigid who had been the stranger in their house all along. That Brigid’s jealousy escalated to obsession. That it was Brigid who killed Robert Traynor. And that Brigid carefully laid out her plans so she could frame Karen to finally have Tom all to herself. Karen turned to Detective Rasbach, confessing that she had her memory back and narrated what she believed happened the night of the murder.
Detective Rasbach was dubious. He still thinks that Karen killed Robert Traynor and her claim that her memory had returned was so sudden and coincidental. Nevertheless, he summoned for Brigid due to evidences implicating her. Brigid admitted to the fact that she indeed followed Karen, heard the gunshots and saw her left the murder spot in haste. But Brigid denied killing Robert Traynor. Brigid was also suspected for having planted the murder weapon at the Krupp’s house. Detective Rasbach exposed that her fingerprints were found in several areas in the house as well as on the public phone that was used to send the anonymous tip to search the Krupp’s home for the gun. Brigid was flabbergasted and demanded her right to a lawyer.
The case against both Karen and Brigid was dismissed by the DA since both accused claimed the other as the murderer and that there was no viable way to convict either one. Everything went back to normal as if nothing had happened. Karen and Tom resumed their lives as husband and wife but it was later revealed that Karen’s memory completely returned. The truth stripped Karen of who she really was. There was no truth to her being a battered wife. Robert Traynor did not abuse her as she claimed. Karen was aware of Robert’s money-laundering rackets, stole from him more than $2 million dollars, and faked her suicide so Robert could no longer pursue her for what she did to him. Karen started a whole new life as Karen Fairfield. She knew that Robert may soon find out she was alive but when it comes to that, she already has her defense ready. It was when Karen received that unexpected call from Robert that she knew she was found out. Karen grabbed her pink rubber gloves and her illegally purchased gun and sped off to where Robert was. Face to face with Robert, she had no intention of killing him. His death should not have happened had he not attacked Karen who fired the gun on impulse – a defiant act of self-defense. Her accident was the result of her miscalculation and emotional turmoil but had Brigid not been at the right place at the right time, she knew she would have been implicated. Karen looks forward to spending the money she stole from her first husband to start things over with Tom. The novel also unveiled that Brigid was furious over everything. She loathed Karen for what she did to her, for having gotten away with murder, and mostly for having humiliated her. But Brigid was biding her time. Everything will fall into place soon as it was revealed that she was pregnant and Tom was the father.
The plot is engaging and the readers will be surely be drawn to find out if Karen Krupp was the murderer or if it was somebody else. Several novels were written having domestic violence as the core motivation and it will come as no surprise that usually in the end, the wife really did kill the husband out of fear or revenge. “A Stranger in the House” is no different but what sets this novel apart is that most readers could not have seen it coming that Karen wasn’t really a victim of domestic abuse. That she was indeed an ambitious woman capable of a lot of things. Karen was described as nobody’s victim. She was quoted as “the kind of woman from whom men need to be protected”. The author has woven strong female characters but had also created halfwitted images of her male characters. Tom Krupp’s character embodied a flawed and gullible man that I find repulsive. It puts me off that he consented to Brigid’s sexual advances to protect Karen which by the way, was very sleazy and unjustifiable. I also noticed the lack of idiomatic richness in most of the dialogues especially the vocal exchanges between Rasbach and Jennings. At some point, Rasbach was portrayed as cunning and smart but his conversations with Jennings appeared farcical. I also find the writing guilty of repetition – how the author presented the characters’ thoughts over and over. It was mentioned several times throughout the novel how Tom loved his wife, how he could not believe Karen could have done this or that, and how Karen’s actions were unlikely of her. It appears that the author could have underestimated the intellect of the readers that the need to justify the characters’ behaviors had to be mentioned several times. Other than the flaws mentioned, the novel still managed to capture my interest but not adequate enough to linger.
My choice of novels falls on the crime/mystery/thriller genre and rarely would I purchase YA romance novels for obvious reasons that I no longer belong to that age group. But I chanced upon this book sitting on the bestseller nook of Fully Booked at a very reasonable price and I sure did fish out my wallet and bought it.
I have this habit of googling a book first–mostly on Goodreads to see about its rating and reviews. It’s no surprise that this book registered an average of 4 stars and I also got word that rights to the book have been secured by NBC and will soon be a streaming series as is expected of a bestseller YA novel.
First off, I’ve fine-tuned myself to the atmosphere, One of Us Is Lying, will surely bring as I have watched teen flicks with my teenage daughter for countless times. I braced myself for possible in-between romantic plots, betrayal, jealousy, revenge, and all the hoo-has that will most probably be present in this book.
As the story progresses, I found myself drawn to each of the characters. Even before I started reading the novel, I already had a hunch as to who the suspect was though, the author crafted the plot in such a way that may mislead you of your intuition. The readers will soon find out that each of the characters had a motive to kill Simon because each has a dark secret waiting to happen. The premise, as expected, is to make sure their secrets are contained and it will be impossible not to think that one or all of them may have done the deed. But what I really loved about this book was the not-so-unexpected friendship that flourished among the four suspected students. I almost reached the point of throwing the novel against the wall in case one of them was involved but gladly, (thanks to Karen), the ending was what I banked on. Sequentially, the Bayview Four exposed the resentful but dismal motivation behind Simon’s death.
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