Tag Archives: Psychological suspense

THE RUMOR

It starts with a rumor. Whispers at the school gate.
“There’s a strong possibility that a famous child killer is living right here in Flinstead,” she says, pausing to let her words take effect. “Under a new identity of course” …

The Rumour debuted in the United Kingdom in December of 2018. The setting is the fictional “cozy” seaside village of Flinstead-on-Sea and the dialogue is distinctly British. The novel crosses the Atlantic in June, 2019 and has been revised for an American audience. Just in time to pick up a copy for a nice beach read! Other reviewers have called it a psychological thriller or heady suspense but I would place it more as a women’s fiction with a who-dun-it theme.

Joanna Critchley, a single mother, was a very successful real estate manager in a large metropolitan area near the sea. She gave it all up – the big salary, beautiful home, and fancy car – to give her son, Alfie, a new life away from cruel school bullies.

She surprises herself by choosing to be near her mother in the small seaside town of Flinstead. When she was eighteen-years-old she couldn’t leave Flinstead fast enough. The tiny town is a mecca for retirees and she longed for the bright lights of the city and the more hip crowd. Now returning, she hopes that Alfie being near his beloved grandmother and entering a new school system would give him a brighter future. Alfie is a bi-racial child and the reader is left to assume that Joanna expected the smaller community would be more tolerate of her mixed race child.

She soon learns that a small town can be harsh on newcomers. Children aren’t the only ones to find it difficult to find a place in the existing pecking order.

Encouraged by her mother, Joanna makes an effort to meet other women in local social activities and joins a book club. When another member of the book club is being hazed over her love life, Joanna attempts to deflect the conversation by asking,

“Just out of curiosity, has anyone heard of Sally McGowan?”. . .  that child killer from the sixties . . . I’m sure it is a load of garbage, but someone mentioned they’d heard something about her living in Flinstead, under a new identity.”

And just like that – the rumor begins to spread throughout the town like a lightning strike in a hay field. Once ignited, the rumor is unstoppable and splinters into different directions fueled by fear, curiosity, paranoia, and suspicion.

Suspected victims are harassed and threatened. No one is above suspicion. And everyone remembers who first brought up the subject. Joanna becomes a target by someone who seems to know Sally McGowan and she fears for her life and that of her son.

The twisty plot explores the damage an innocent comment can do in a small town with everyone having an ax to grind. The truth of the rumor becomes a rationale to expose the town’s underbelly.

The book is not overly harsh and easy to read. The kind of book you would take on a plane trip; it doesn’t require the reader to deeply engage in the themes just enjoy the journey.

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HALF MOON BAY: a novel

Publisher’s Synopsis

A smart, haunting tale of psychological suspense from the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of Turn of Mind.

Jane loses everything when her teenage daughter is killed in a senseless accident. Jane is devastated, but sometime later, she makes one tiny stab at a new life: she moves from San Francisco to the tiny seaside town of Half Moon Bay.

She is inconsolable. and yet, as the months go by, she is able to cobble together some version of a job, of friends, of the possibility of peace.

And then, children begin to disappear. And soon, Jane sees her own pain reflected in all the parents in the town. She wonders if she will be able to live through the aching loss, the fear all around her. But as the disappearances continue, she begins to see that what her neighbors are wondering is if it is Jane herself who has unleashed the horror of loss.

Blogger’s Review

I lived in Monterey, California before moving to Sand City, a tiny community nearby and not that far from Half Moon Bay. The memories of my tiny rental house sitting on a dune with the eternal sounds of pounding surf and the sense of isolation sprang to mind when I was given the chance to read Alice LaPlante’s newest book, Half Moon Bay.

Sadly, the memories, the salty smells, and the sounds of surf were not enough to keep my attention on Jane and the remaining pop-up characters that populated the story. Recognizing that some books start out slowly and build suspense and mystery before ending with a ” I didn’t see that coming” ending, I plotted along and finished the book only to find that the conclusion fizzled out predictably.

I would have given the book a one star rating but for the intriguing descriptions of the floral plants featured in the nursery where Jane worked. I found myself turning to my collection of botanical books parked on the side table of more interest than Jane’s psychological and emotional issues. The plant intrigue earned a second star for the book.

The protagonist, Jane, is a grieving mixed-up character with a history of histrionic behavior. Her teenage daughter dies in an auto accident caused by a distracted driver. In the following months, she loses her husband to infidelity and both parents die unexpectedly. When the woman responsible for her daughter’s death is found guilty but only receives a slap on the wrist, Jane repeatedly reacts violently against her and is lucky she doesn’t end up in jail.

Hoping for a new start, she escapes to a small seaside town. It turns out that her issues come with her; the only change is geography. The loss of her daughter consumes her thoughts. She gets along well with everyone in town on a surface level but internally she is a lonely mess.

A creepy couple move to Half Moon Bay and soon become the talk of the town. The charismatic Edward  ostensibly has moved to town to stop the development of a high-end resort on a fragile piece of coast land.  Edward begins to stalk Jane and soon begins to appear nightly at her house for a romp in the sack. Jane becomes obsessed with the attention and doesn’t question his motives. Weird.

When Jane meets Alma, Edward’s significant other, she worries that Alma would find out about her relationship with Edward. Surprisingly, Alma already knows and doesn’t give a flip. The couple smothers Jane with over-the-top affection and frequent invitations to their home. Their seduction routine leads to daredevil deeds that require Jane to endanger her life and to commit large scale vandalism.

In the meantime, local young girls, one-by-one, are kidnapped and murdered. Jane’s violent past and the death of her daughter are exposed to the townsfolk making her a murder suspect in everyone’s eyes- except to Edward and Alma. As Jane unravels with all the negative attention, she goes to Edward and Alma’s home uninvited and discovers she has been duped.

My honest opinion?  The book is disjointed and ricochets around in Jane’s mind. The various plot lines don’t seem to build suspense and feels like life in a wind tunnel. I think it could have been a good book with more judicious editing and deeper character development. As it is now, the characters are flat, the plot and conclusion obvious, and the story feels like a blindfolded foot race through a corn maze.

Alice LaPlante has proven her skill as an author with her first book, Turn of Mind. Here’s hoping she is more successful next time.

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OUR HOUSE : a novel

She must be mistaken, but it looks exactly as if someone is moving into her house.

The van is parked halfway down Trinity Avenue, its square mouth agape, a large piece of furniture sliding down the ribbed metal tongue.

Fi watches … as the object is carried through the gate and down the path.

My gate. My path.
Whose things are these?

No one expects to return home from a weekend trip to find themselves homeless, their spouse missing and all of their belongings gone. Fi knew that Bram had issues, but she never saw this one coming!

This clever and dark suspense will have you up all night reading!

Fiona (Fi) and Bram Lawson were separated after she found her husband shagging a neighbor in the kid’s new backyard playhouse. (His second transgression in their twelve-year marriage.) But the martial breakup was based on much more. It always is. Booze, lying, fits of anger, and speeding tickets in Bram’s case.

Anna and Bram reveal the story in alternating viewpoints. Anna, seeking to make sense of what happened, tells her story in a lengthy podcast on a site dedicated to victims; aptly named The Victim. Bram’s detailed story, written while in self-exile out-of-country, is a confessional Word document that begins with a simple bout of road rage that is compounded by one bad decision after another, speeding toward an ending you never saw coming.

The drama is revealed like a cat’s cradle, weaving in misdirection and building intrigue. British writer, John Ruskin, aptly wrote: the essence of lying is in deception, not in words.

Anna, at times, comes across a little too goody two-shoes naive. But there is no doubt that she is caught in a vortex of evil not of her doing. Bram, unable to curb his base instincts, finds himself trapped between a rock and a hard place, spiraling out-of-control.

Other characters latch on to Anna and Bram like leeches pushing them to the edge; some with souls dark as the devil. How do you define a friend? How do you know friend from foe? How far would friendship go if betrayed?

Somewhere in all this miasma, love lives, despite divorce, albeit now reduced to a level of caring and compassion one would have for an old pet. Humming just beneath the surface are age-old moral codes serving as a balance beam between right and wrong. Who will find a way to stay on the beam; and who will fall victim to the “dark side”?

How would you handle a world turned upside down? Internalize it like Bram; suffocating under the weight of deception? Or project it outward like Anna; broadcasting her pain in attempt to find her way out of the black hole where her life disappeared?

Look for the book in August, 2018.  A good read.

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THE CHALK MAN

CROWN PUBLISHING | 2018
288 pages
FICTION : PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE/COMING-OF-AGE
ARC FROM PUBLISHER AND NEGALLEY

★★★★☆

When you get old and start falling apart, there are changes in your reading habits. When you are young, you have the stamina to stay up all night and read a good book then go to work. I am now at the age where I don’t have to do that! Instead, I spend the lost hours sitting in a doctor’s waiting room reading.  I’ve been saving The Chalk Man for just this kind of moment; and I wasn’t disappointed in my decision when the opportunity showed itself this week.

PROLOGUE 

The girl’s head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves. Her almond eyes stared up at the canopy of sycamore, beech and oak, but they didn’t see. . . A short distance away, a pale hand stretched out from its own small shroud of leaves, as if searching for help, or reassurance that it as not alone. . .

The Chalk Man will disappoint readers that are looking for a hair-raising blood curdling serial murder read.  The story reminded me more of  Stand By Me or Lord of the Flies. There are mysterious deaths that seem linked, and a myriad number of unexplained and aberrant events between the children, town bullies and adults with serious personality defects. Twists, squirms, and turns more than sordid and graphic murder scenes.

The story is told by Edward “Eddie Munster” as an adult in 2016 and flashes back and forth to 1986. Hence, the lives of the town’s residents and Eddie’s friends are slanted by his view and opinions. We learn more about Eddie simply because he shares more about himself than he does the others. Through him, we experience the hormonal throes of early adolescence and budding sexuality, observe his proclivity for shoplifting and collecting souvenirs and oddball items, and sense the anguish of a child/man slightly out of tune with world.

The relevance of the  title, Chalk Man begins with Mr. Halloran, an albino teacher who attends “Fat Gav’s” birthday party and gifts him with a box of chalk sticks. Learning that Mr. Halloran used chalk messages to secretly communicate with others, the children devise their own secret code – until one day – someone outside their group discovers their code.

I am reluctant to discuss the story in deeper detail; it will spoil the read. But I will toss in a few thoughts and prose that have stayed with me.

If you see something, say something. If you know something and keep it to yourself, you will be haunted by the outcome of your cowardice. Every action has a consequence; for good or for bad. No one is who they seem. No one is perfect. Everyone has character flaws. Life is not fair.

Eddie’s father, dying early of Alzheimer’s, left him with an important thought and I will share it with you. You will need to take this tidbit of wisdom with you into the read:

Never assume, my dad once told me. To assume makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

Recommended reading for those that like a murder mystery without stomach churning violence. There’s just enough tough stuff to wince but keep going.

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