Book Review: WATCHING YOU, a satisfyingly creepy mystery

Jewell, Lisa - Watching YouWatching You
Lisa Jewell

On March 24, police are called to Melville Heights, an exclusive neighborhood in Bristol, England where they find a body in a pool of blood. . . .

In this tony neighborhood, privacy was only an illusion. Joey Mullen and her new husband, Alfie, moved in with her brother Jack, and his wife, Rebecca. Joey always thought Jack would marry an outgoing, lively woman, but Rebecca, often quiet, is more likely to stay in her home office than interact with the rest of the family.

When Joey notices her neighbor, Tom Fitzwilliam, the handsome head of the local school, she develops an unhealthy fondness for him. Although she believes no one knows about her feelings, Tom’s teenage son, Freddie, an aspiring spy, watches the neighborhood with high powered binoculars from his bedroom window.

Mr. Fitzwilliam, well-known around the community, is regarded as a hero because he turned around the ailing school, but Jenna Tripp is not convinced he’s the beneficent spirit he appears. Jenna’s friend, Bess Ridley, has a crush on Mr. Fitzwilliam, and in Jenna’s eyes, Mr. Fitzwilliam has responded inappropriately. It doesn’t help that her mother, Frankie, suffering from mental health issues, believes that Mr. Fitzwilliam is the head of a group of people who is organizing gang bullying against her. Her surveillance of Fitzwilliam isn’t subtle; she sits in a lawn chair across from his house.

Moreover, Mr. Fitzwilliam’s wife, Nicola, appears to be subservient to Tom, and Freddie sometimes hears sounds from his parents’ room at night that sound like fighting.

Watching You traces the story of the murder as it developed from January. Traditional chapters are interspersed with police interview transcripts, and it is only after several characters are interviewed that the identity of the body is evident, though who the murderer is remains unclear. Despite the number of people watching, no single commands the entire mosaic.

Although at times events strain credulity and the book can give unclear messages about the appropriateness of adult behavior towards teenagers, Watching You has the qualities I want in a mystery/thriller: it is fast-paced and entertaining. Added to these are the quirky characters in the mix and the unusual situation of the civilians, not the police, having most of the answers. With Watching You certainly satisfying, I will likely pick up another Lisa Jewell novel.

Book Review: THE WIFE BETWEEN US

The Wife Between Us (4)The Wife Between Us
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Nellie excitedly prepares for her wedding to Richard who in her mind couldn’t be more perfect. Successful and handsome, they met when he gave up his first class seat on a plane to a soldier who happened to be sitting next to her. He showers her with attention and gifts, and she dreams of a future with him and a house full of children.

Vanessa, Richard’s ex-wife, though, seethes over Richard’s upcoming marriage. She starts following her replacement, watching her apartment, and even goes back to her natural hair color so she will look more like her.

It is best to read The Wife between Us without knowing anything about it–ignore the promotional copy if at all possible because it will definitely decrease your enjoyment of the book.

Otherwise, the novel is a gripping psychological thriller. Although I figured out one twist (likely because the book cover spoiled it), the book had other surprises in store.

Slightly more complex than a traditional book in the genre, The Wife between Us has complex characters that can’t completely be described as “good” or “bad.” They carry horrendous childhoods, forcing the reader to consider how much one’s past can excuse present behavior. Class, power, and age also contribute to the sense of agency each exhibits.

The first section is deliberately obtuse, and it would be nice to have more characterization given to secondary characters. I also thought that some of the personalities changed to suit the narrative instead of organically. One of the more interesting things about this book is that it is co-authored. The text is seamless, and it’s really impossible to tell that it’s not produced by a single voice.

Though flawed, The Wife between Us is very readable and compelling. It certainly will appeal to fans of psychological thrillers–and will probably keep them up all night wanting to know what happens next.

Book Review: THE SILENT PATIENT, if you like psychological thrillers, read this book!

Michaelides, Alex - The Silent PatientThe Silent Patient
Alex Michaelides

Painter Alicia Berenson was found in her living room, wrists cut, rifle on the floor, with her husband, Max, tied to a chair, dead from a rifle shot. From the moment she was taken into custody, she refused to speak, and she was sent to the psychiatric facility the Grove, which, incidentally, was in danger of closing because the innovative methods advocated by medical director Dr. Lazarus Diomedes were far from cost effective.

The only thing resembling a statement Alicia made was a self-portrait entitled Alcestis. In the Greek myth Alcestis, Admetus is condemned to death unless he can find a volunteer to take his place. His parents refuse, but his wife Alcestis is willing. She departs for Hades, but Heracles intervenes and returns her to life. While Admetus is overjoyed, Alcestis responds with silence, leaving Admetus to ask why his wife doesn’t speak.

Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber had been interested in Alicia’s case since her story was first covered in the papers. Having an abusive childhood himself, he believed that he alone could reach and heal Alicia, so when a position opened at the Grove six years after Max’s murder, he applied, even though it might not be the most advantageous move for his career.

Since therapy with a silent patient presents challenges, Theo ignores professional standards and seeks out Alicia’s friends and families for insight into her thoughts and behavior before Max’s murder. Perhaps something could explain her drastic action–or even exonerate her. At the same time, excerpts from Alicia’s journal reveal that Theo’s sources may have their own secrets to keep.

The Silent Patient is a gripping and solid thriller that I read in one gulp. I don’t want to say anything else about it except that if you like this genre, you will want to read it as soon as possible!

Book Review: NO EXIT, an O-M-G thriller

Adams, Taylor - No ExitNo Exit
Taylor Adams

In No Exit, University of Colorado-Boulder art student Darby Thorne, who previously planned on staying on campus for Christmas vacation, instead tries to beat a blizzard coming over the mountains to get home to Utah for a family emergency. Her car, though, is no match for the snow, and she is forced to pull into a small rest area where the only refreshments are coffee and cocoa and the only amenities bathrooms.

Four other travelers have already settled in: Ashley, a talkative younger man with a penchant for cards and magic tricks; Sandi, a bus driver who loves to read mystery novels; Ed, Sandi’s cousin and an alcoholic ex-veterinarian; and Lars, a creepy guy who hovers at the edge of the group.

In her rush to leave, Darby’s forgotten her iPhone charger, and none of the others have one, not that it matters since the mountain rest stop receives no signal. Ashley, though, said he was able to get one bar outside near some sculptures, and Darby decided to try it, desperate to hear news from home.

Disappointed she couldn’t even get a single bar, Darby walked back to the warmth of the rest stop through the parking lot, passing between her car and a van. And, just for a second, she saw a child’s hand holding a bar through van’s back window. Darby hoped she had misinterpreted what she’d seen and went inside, but later made an excuse to return to the parking lot, and her fears were confirmed. A young girl was locked in a wire dog crate in the back of the van.

Darby, who thought of herself as unremarkable and inferior to her younger sister, realized only she could help the little girl since any one of the other people stranded at the rest stop could be the kidnapper. With few resources, no allies, and no way to contact the authorities, if Darby was to rescue the girl, she would have to draw on strength and cunning she didn’t even know she had.

No Exit is a straightforward, oh-my-god thriller. Once I got about a quarter through, I couldn’t put it down, and I stayed up into the wee hours of the night finishing it. It has surprises, twists, disappointments, moments of heroism and moments of sacrifice. If you like mysteries or thrillers with strong female protagonists, you’ll definitely enjoy No Exit.

Book Review: MIND OF WINTER, the relationship between a mother and her adopted teenage daughter falls apart during a Christmas blizzard

kasischke, laura - mind of winter (2)Mind of Winter
Laura Kasischke

On Christmas morning, Holly and Eric wake up late, surprised their fifteen-year-old daughter has allowed them to sleep. Eric quickly leaves for the airport to pick up his parents. Holly has the disorienting thought, “We brought something back from Russia.” Thirteen years ago, they’d traveled to a Siberian orphanage to meet Tatiana for the first time, and since they brought her home, a series of unexplained tragedies has befallen their family.

Expecting a full house for Christmas dinner, Holly strains to prepare the meal, and Tatiana is petulant and unhelpful. Meanwhile, Holly receives mysterious calls on her cellphone. The falling snow turns into a blizzard, and Holly’s friends, Thuy and Pearl, the only people invited that she actually wants to see, cancel. One by one, the other guests bow out, and it’s clear that only Holly and Tatiana will be in the house.

Holly frequently shifts between guilt about Tatiana’s past to anger about her behavior which is increasingly sarcastic and cruel as the day progresses, not to mention strange, changing clothes frequently and wearing a pair of boots one would likely see in Russia. Holly decompensates as Tatiana seems to gain control and unexpected things happen around the house–falls, breaking objects, spoiled food.

Mind of Winter had a great payoff in the final pages, but getting there was a bit of an effort. Holly’s vacillations between guilt and anger became tiresome and her arguments with Tatiana seemed repetitive. I found Holly an annoying character which made the book unpleasant to read at times. At the same time, the book had illuminating and horrifying depictions of Siberian orphanages and the international adoption process. I’m not sure that getting through the book, though, is worth that information and the interesting, and to me, surprising, conclusion.