The Perfect Liar – Thomas Christopher Greene

Max W. and Susannah meet at a fancy art party in New York City. They are drawn to each other almost immediately and soon after, they are married. Now they live in Vermont where Max has taken a job as a lecturer at a small liberal arts college. One morning, while Max is away giving a lecture at an art institute in Chicago, Susannah discovers a note pinned to their front door:

I KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

Thomas Christopher Green’s (The Headmaster’s Wife, Envious Moon) The Perfect Liar is the perfect book for a rainy afternoon because you can read it pretty much in one sitting. It won’t take you long to realize that you are dealing with a couple of unreliable narrators – my favourite kind of narrator – and that’s what makes this book so much fun.

Max has reinvented himself from runaway/vagabond – to artist – to viral TedTalk phenom. He’s pretty forthcoming about the details of his life and he also knows that “he had the gift to read people. He imagined he could often tell what they desired even before he knew it themselves.” He knows how to hold a room, so he’s soon a sought after speaker at art institutes and corporate functions.

Susannah was widowed young and is the mother of one son, Freddy, now sixteen. Her former husband was her therapist first and despite the obvious conflict of interest, she continued to see him professionally even after they were married. Joseph was twenty years older than her with a “voice calming like a metronome. Susannah loved his voice and she loved how he used words. She couldn’t get enough of his voice. Just the sound of it was enough for her to feel at ease, to stop being aware of her heart.”

Susannah suffers from extreme panic attacks and anxiety, and being in Vermont seems to be helping – until she finds the first note. Then this perfect life she seems to have found starts to unravel. And Max, too, seems unsettled by the note…and the notes that follow.

Greene does a great job of moving the narrative along and giving you lots of opportunities to shift allegiances. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that either Max or Susannah are particularly sympathetic, but that doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. I don’t want to spoil any of the novel’s several surprises, so I’ll just say The Perfect Liar is the perfect book for your beach bag.

Keeping Lucy – T. Greenwood

Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood is not the sort of book I would have ever picked on my own to read. Apparently it was inspired by “incredible true events” and while I don’t doubt the novel’s sincerity, there were just too many schmaltzy or wtf moments for me to invest in any of the characters.

Ginny Richardson and her husband Abbott (Ab because he father is Abbott, too) have just welcomed their second child into the world, a daughter they call Lucy. After the delivery, Ginny is told that Lucy has a “condition [that] comes with many, many challenges” including “Heart defects, hearing and vision problems, Thyroid malfunctions.” Ginny is informed that

She’s mongoloid. Which means severe mental retardation. She’ll be feeble-minded, no more intelligent than a dog. The hardship she will bring to your family – women never realize the impact that raising an imbecile has on a marriage. On the other children. You must think of your son.

Okay, sure, it’s 1969, but it’s as if Ginny has no agency of her own. By the time she recovers from giving birth, Lucy has been sent to Willowridge, a “special” school where her particular problems can be looked after. The party line is that Lucy died during delivery and no one but her closest friend, Marsha, her mother and her in-laws know the truth. Ginny returns to her life as mom to her son and wife to her lawyer husband and long days of deciding what to serve for dinner and making sure the house is sparkling when Ab gets home.

Then, two years after Lucy is born, Marsha drops a bombshell. There’s been an exposé about Willowridge. The reporter visited the facility undercover and discovered

the bathrooms without stalls. The sleeping quarters’ walls smeared with human waste. The kitchen with its cockroaches. As she read about the vats of slop meant to pass as sustenance, as food, her stomach turned. […] Broken elevators filled with dirty laundry. Sewage spills. And the children. God, the children huddled into corners. Alone.

Although Ginny has never once visited her daughter, passive enough to believe her husband when he tells her that Lucy is better off where she is, she is mortified by these articles and she insists that Ab do something. Ab can’t though because his father is representing the school in several class action law suits. Ginny decides, with Marsha’s help, to go see for herself. What she discovers is so appalling that she kidnaps Lucy and they, along with her son Peyton, now six, and Marsha head to Florida to try to come up with a plan.

I know that we are supposed to admire Ginny’s maternal instincts and her overwhelming desire to rescue Lucy from what are clearly deplorable conditions, but I just kept shaking my head. You know how sometimes things take you out of a story – there were several instances of that in this book. For example, they stop for food and Ginny buys hamburgers and milkshakes for her children. Her two year daughter who has Down syndrome and has been institutionalized since birth is going to chow down on a McDouble and a shake? Say what? When they stop at Marsha’s aunt’s house for the night, it is described first as “a big farmhouse with plenty of rooms” and when they drive up the driveway suddenly it’s “a small cabin”, which she’d built herself. Stuff like this drives me crazy and I notice it a lot more when I am not invested in the book.

My brothers and I were all born in the 60s. I can’t imagine my mother ever letting any one of us be taken away and placed in an institution. I know things were different, I get it, but Ginny was such a frustrating character to me. When she and Ab meet they have such big plans and suddenly Ab is working for his dad and Ginny is relegated to the role of haus frau. depending on the allowance Ab gives her to run the household. She doesn’t drive; she doesn’t know how to use a credit card; she seems as innocent of the world as Lucy. Except it doesn’t take long for Lucy to be learning words and calling Ginny “momma”.

Keeping Lucy is treacle-y sweet and, while it was easy to read, I just didn’t like it.

Good Girl, Bad Girl – Michael Robotham

I was expecting great things from Michael Robotham’s novel Good Girl, Bad Girl, which was a 2020 finalist for the Edgar, and named Best Thriller of the Year by both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

Cyrus Haven is a psychologist who has been called in to determine whether or not Evie Cormac should be allowed to leave the secure children’s home where she has been living ever since she was discovered hiding in a secret room in a house where a rotting corpse is found six years previous. Very little is known about Evie – not her real name or her exact age or what happened to her because she either can’t remember or she isn’t willing to disclose the information. It’s Haven’s job to figure out whether Evie is a danger to herself or society.

As if that wouldn’t keep Haven busy enough, when the body of a teenage girl is discovered on a footpath by a woman walking her dog, his help is needed to determine who is potentially withholding info. The lead detective on the case, Lenny Parvel, is important to Haven because she was “the first police officer on the scene when [his] parents and sisters were murdered.” So, yeah, Haven has some issues of his own.

So, as he works this case and tries to get to the bottom of Evie’s trauma and shove his own PTSD to the back, you can imagine – it all gets to be a little complicated. Is Haven up to the task? Well, it would appear so. Things get even more convoluted when Evie is released and goes to live with Haven. I can’t imagine that that is a thing that could ever really happen, but it does.

My problem with Good Girl, Bad Girl is that I felt like I never really understood these characters. For example, we never do learn who Evie is or why she was hiding in a secret room, or who the dead guy was beyond his name. That’s apparently going to be revealed in the novel’s sequel When She Was Good, which I won’t be reading. Haven’s own family tragedy is also never really explored. It’s a horrific crime, perpetrated by Haven’s older brother, who is now in a facility for the criminally insane. And although we do discover what happens to Jodie Sheehan, the girl found on the footpath, it’s not that thrilling of a mystery. Evie inserts herself into the investigation in a wholly unrealistic way, too. I kinda got the feeling that Haven was a crap psychologist – which is sort of awkward because I think we’re supposed to be rooting for him. And Evie. And I just didn’t care about wither of them. Maybe if the book had focused on just one of these stories and dedicated its energy in making these characters into flesh and blood people things might have turned out differently, but when Evie turns out to be a card shark, wins thousands of pounds at a game she happens to know about, then gets robbed and ends up in the trunk of a car – well, how much are we supposed to believe can happen to one person and not have them be a raving lunatic?

It was a miss for me.

Cataract City – Craig Davidson

Although I can’t say the subject matter of Canadian writer Craig Davidson’s Giller-nominated novel Cataract City was necessarily my thing (boys lost in the woods, greyhound racing, dog fights, bare knuckled fist fighting, etc), I found myself sinking whole heartedly into this story of two best friends: Owen Stucky and Duncan Digs. I think it’s because Davidson (who also writes horror novels under the name Nick Cutter, the only one of which I’ve read is The Troop) is such an excellent writer and his stories are so filled with nostalgia and melancholy and hope that it’s impossible not to really care about his characters even though their shenanigans might not be the usual fare for a woman in her late middle age.

Craig and Duncan live in Cataract City (aka Niagara Falls), a city which they seem to love and loathe in equal measure. When the novel opens, Duncan is just getting out of the Kingston Penitentiary after serving 2912 nights in prison. Of those nights, Duncan tells us, “two were the longest: the first and the last.” When he gets back to his parents’ house, he pries up a loose floorboard in his bedroom closet and from the cavity under the floor, takes out an old cigar box, filled with the treasures of his youth. The mementos spark his memories and the novel begins its meandering narrative, told in the voices of both Duncan and his childhood friend, Owen.

As described by the boys, Cataract City is a place where dreams go to die. Owen says “If you grew up in Cataract City and earned a university degree, chances are you left town. If you grew up in Cataract City and managed to finish high school, chances are you took a job at the dry docks, Redpath Sugar, the General Motors plant in St. Catherines or the Bisk.” Both the boys’ fathers work at the Bisk, the Nabisco plant, and their “dads carried the smell of their lines home with them.”

The city of your birth was the softest trap imaginable. So soft you didn’t even feel how badly you were snared – how could it be a trap when you knew its every spring and tooth?

Duncan and Owen meet when they are ten; even though they “both lived on Rickard Street and went to the same school” they had never spoken to each other. When another boy tackles Owen one day in the playground, Duncan comes to his rescue and the two boys bond over their shared love of wrestling. It’s wrestling that gets the boys into their first scrape.

Cataract City bounces back and forth between then and now, changing narrators effortlessly. Although the boys take different roads in life (Owen becomes a cop after a knee injury squashes his chances to play professional basketball and Duncan, well, he ends up in jail), the two never stop caring for each other. The melancholic nostalgic seeps into Davidson’s story and it’s hard not to be reminded of days gone by when even the characters long to

be kids again, just for a while. Revoke for just one day our breaking bodies and tortured minds. I would haven given anything to spend one more day as we once had, even if it was one of those piss-away afternoons reading comic books in Owen’s basement while the rain clicked in the downspout like marbles.

I loved the journey these two take, some of it literal, some figurative. I loved the insights into friendship and family and love and memory. I loved all the references to Canadian things (The Beachcombers and Rowdy Roddy Piper). I loved the struggle to figure out what it all means in the end.

An instant in time, measurable in seconds, that acts as the hinge for everything you’ve ever done. Everything feeds into that moment: your backlog of experience and behaviours determine how you enter that moment and how you’ll walk away from it afterwards. Every way you’ve ever been hurt, every grievance nursed, every secret fear, those moments where you’ve stood up or stepped down and all the love in your body – it all matters when you reach the Point. It is all brought to bear.

The only other Davidson novel I’ve read is The Saturday Night Ghost Club and I really loved it. I will make a concerted effort to read his other work, for sure. Highly recommended.

Dear Amy – Helen Callaghan

Helen Callaghan’s debut novel Dear Amy is pretty dang good. It seems like thrillers are a dime a dozen these days, but Callaghan’s story is well-written, and has some twists that readers might not see coming.

Margot Lewis teaches Classics at a prestigious high school in Cambridge, England. She’s a good teacher and she loves her job. In her spare time, she answers letters for The Cambridge Examiner, a sort of agony aunt deal. Her life is falling apart, though – her husband has left her and they are on the precipice of divorce.

One day Margot gets a letter from a girl named Bethan Avery begging for help. The letter claims that the writer is being held prisoner in a basement by a strange man who promises he will never let her go. At first Margot thinks it’s a prank, but the coincidence is too striking. Just a few weeks ago, Katie Browne, a girl who attends Margot’s school, though not one of her students, had gone missing. Margot takes the letter to the police, but they aren’t really interested. Bethan Avery is a real person, but she’d disappeared 20 years ago and the case had gone cold. It isn’t until a second letter turns up that the authorities start to take an interest; well, not the police exactly, but a man named Martin Forrester, a “senior criminologist in the Multi-Disciplinary Historical Analysis Team.” Leave it to the Brits to come up with a complicated way of describing cold cases.

Martin, he of the long hair and dreamy green eyes and bulging muscles, tells Margot that Bethan Avery is not the first girl from the area to have disappeared. Now, despite the twenty years separating Bethan’s disappearance from Katie’s, Martin believes that the two cases are linked, and that there may be others. Martin is suspicious of the letters Margot has received, but Margot is desperate to believe that Bethan is still out there and it may be possible to save her and, if the cases are indeed connected, Katie, too.

Although there were a few instances of “oh, no, you didn’t” in the novel, and although Margot is sometimes shrill and hysterical, I still really enjoyed this novel. Margot’s is not the only voice throughout. At the beginning, we meet Katie, who has just had another dust-up (as sixteen-year-olds are prone to) with her mother and step-father, and she has decided to slip out and head over to her father’s. That decision doesn’t end well. We also meet Chris, the creepy pedophile; the less time spent with him the better. There’s nothing graphic in the book, but let’s face it, our imaginations are more than equal to the task of knowing what Chris is up to.

In any case, if you like thrillers, this one is an enjoyable read.

A Rip in Heaven – Jeanine Cummins

It was only a few months ago that I read Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt, a novel that, though not without controversy, I could not put down. I had the same experience with her memoir/true crime A Rip in Heaven. I was about 40 pages along when I settled in to read the other night and I finally had to turn off my light at 2 a.m. It was a school night and that’s way past light’s out for me, but I just couldn’t stop reading it.

In 1991, 16-year-old Cummins, her younger sister, Kathy, 14, and older brother, Tom, 18, are vacationing in St. Louis with their parents. Both sides of the family are there, so the siblings have lots of cousins to hang with and it’s a happy time. Tom, in particular, has developed a close bond with his cousins, Julie and Robin, and on his last night in town, he sneaks out to visit the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, where Julie, an aspiring poet, has left some of her poetry by way of graffiti. Mostly the cousins don’t want their time together to end.

Although it was never officially accredited as a landmark, the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge was widely recognized as one, and the city of Madison was loathe to have it torn down. A couple of decades came and went while the old bridge stood silently straddling the Mississippi and gathering rust. […] Local affection for the bridge, combined with the enormous price tag of demolishing it, kept it standing. By 1991 the bridge, though structurally sound, was in a terrible state of disrepair, and it had become a favorite local hangout for teenagers and graffiti artists from both banks.

It is on this bridge, sometime after midnight, that the trio encounter 23-year-old Marlin Gray, a smooth-talking, good looking, layabout; Daniel Winfrey, “an awkward scrawny kid,”; Reginald Clemons, “a shy, and quiet man of nineteen” and Antonio Richardson, Clemons’s cousin, who was “just plain bad news.” At first these four seem relatively benign to the cousins, but it doesn’t take long for things to take an horrific turn. Tom and his cousins end up in the Mississippi; Tom is the only survivor.

The actual crime is so mindless and so awful, it’s almost hard to believe. It turns out, that’s part of the problem for Tom. When he is finally able to get help, the cops don’t believe his story. The cops employee ever dirty tactic in the book to get him to admit to their version of events and he is finally arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder.

Cummins writes A Rip in Heaven in the third person, adopting her childhood nickname, Tink, as a way to somewhat distance herself from this story, which is both devastating, and riveting. Like I said, I couldn’t put the book down and had to force myself to turn the light out so I wouldn’t be a hot mess at school the next day. The book follows Tom’s time in police custody and the subsequent trials, which Cummins has pieced together from court documents, police records and interviews. It is also a plea that we not forget the victims in cases such as these. Cummins acknowledges that “As a society, we have a certain fascination with murder and violence. […] We want to know why atrocities happen; we want to understand the causes of wickedness.” But as Cummins points out, “The dead can’t tell their own stories,” so often the perpetrators of the crimes find themselves at the center of attention. This was also the case for the four young men involved in this case.

By all accounts, Julie and Robin were amazing young women, and their deaths left a hole in the lives of all those who loved them: a rip in heaven. Cummins has managed to capture the trauma, the drama and the way this family banded together to survive it. It makes for compelling reading.

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett’s novel The Vanishing Half tells the story of twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes, who run away from their small-town home at sixteen. Mallard, Louisiana is “more idea than place.” Founded in 1848 by a man “who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes”, Mallard seems to pride itself on breeding generations who are “lighter than the one before.” That’s how one of the twins is able and makes the decision to pass as white, and thus enters a world that, in the mid 1950s, she wouldn’t normally be allowed to inhabit.

At first the sisters head to New Orleans, where they hope they will be able to fulfill their dreams which had been “trapped by [Mallard’s] smallness.” Stella, the practical one, is studious and dreams of a bigger life. Desiree “imagined herself escaping into the city and becoming an actress.” But then, one day, Stella disappears. It will be many years before the sisters see each other again.

The Vanishing Half begins when Desiree and her young daughter, Jude, arrive back in Mallard fourteen years after she and Stella first ran away. It’s big news in a small town because nobody left Mallard and “nobody married dark”, but Desiree had done both. From here, the novel reaches back to tell the story of the girls’ initial disappearance, their separation and then what becomes of their lives.

Stella’s story is vastly different than her sister’s. She meets Blake Sanders, and marries him and they move to California, where they have a daughter called Kennedy. It isn’t until a black family moves onto their cul de sac that Stella’s past starts to resurface and we begin to see how much she has buried. Blake doesn’t know she’s black. Kennedy doesn’t know her mother has a sister. She passes as white and she lives as white and it seems to make her life both easier and harder.

It isn’t until Jude decides to attend college in Los Angeles and, by chance, sees Stella at an event where she is working as a catering waitress, that the sisters’ stories merge. Fascinated with her violet-eyed, blonde cousin Kennedy, Jude tries to put her mother’s story back together.

I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to read; the characters were interesting and complicated, and although I guess I didn’t really understand Stella’s motivation for keeping her past a secret, for denying she had a twin, I guess the truth of the matter is that we can never really understand someone until we walk in their shoes. I loved Desiree’s childhood sweetheart, Early Jones, who comes back into her life when he is hired by Desiree’s abusive ex-husband to find her. I loved Jude and her boyfriend, Reese.

Families are complicated and the families in Bennett’s novel are no different. Everyone keeps secrets, some more damaging than others. Stella’s secret, of course, is the biggest of all. Stella’s husband, for example, seems to love her unconditionally, but he doesn’t really know her. Stella’s relationship with Kennedy is, especially as Kennedy gets older, tense, but how could it be anything but? Kennedy has questions; Stella has no answers she’s willing to give.

I didn’t finish Bennett’s novel The Mothers, but I have no qualms about recommending this one to readers.

My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

Lucy Barton is recovering from surgery in a New York City hospital with a view of the Chrysler Building. She’d gone into the hospital to have her appendix removed and ended up staying for nine weeks, fighting an infection that nobody seemed able to identify. During her time in the hospital, her mother comes to stay for a few days and as the two women sit together, parts of Lucy’s childhood float to the surface. This is the premise of Elizabeth Strout’s novel My Name if Lucy Barton. Last year I read Olive Kitteridge, a book which had been languishing on my tbr shelf for years. I loved it. I really enjoyed this book, too. It’s a quiet book and as the story moved along, it seemed to build in intensity.

Lucy and her mother have a strained relationship; in fact, they have not spoken in several years, but when she shows up at Lucy’s bedside “using my pet name, which I had not heard in ages, [it] made me feel warm and liquid-filled, as though all my tension had been a solid thing, and now was not.”

For five days, Lucy’s mother sits with her and the two talk of the past, a past which hadn’t been necessarily kind to them.

We were oddities, our family, even in that tiny rural town of Amgash, Illinois, where there were other homes that were run-down and lacking fresh paint or shutters or gardens, no beauty for the eye to rest on. […] We were told on the playground by other children, “Your family stinks,” and they’d run off pinching their noses with their fingers; my sister was told by her second-grade teacher – in front of the class – that being poor was no excuse for having dirt behind the ears, no one was too poor to buy a bar of soap.

Lucy gets out, though. A teacher recognizes Lucy’s love of reading and provides her with lots of books to read. The books make Lucy feel “less alone. This is my point. And I thought: I will write and people will not feel so alone!” Despite her insecurities, Lucy takes herself, her studies and her writing very seriously and earns herself a full-ride scholarship to college. This is the beginning of Lucy’s journey of self-discovery and also the beginning of her exile from her family. It is only her mother’s arrival at her bedside which makes her re-examine her roots and she is telling this story from many years in the future when she actually has the perspective necessary to understand.

As Lucy and her mother share stories about the people of Amgash, Lucy also looks more closely at her memories of her family and her own strengths and weaknesses as a person. These observations are the heart and soul of Strout’s novel.

It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.

I think My Name is Lucy Barton is a book that would benefit from a second read. It really asks the reader to look closely at their own lives, their harsh judgments of others, their estrangements, the second-chances we’re offered and often stupidly refuse. When Lucy and her husband divorce, Lucy’s adult daughter tells her “when you write a novel you get to rewrite it, but when you live with someone for twenty years, that is the novel, and you can never write that novel with anyone again!”

I think this is a novel that is deceptive, now that I’ve tried to capture my thoughts about it here. Quiet, yes, but powerful in the way that it examines one woman’s story. And that’s what we all have, our own stories.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here – Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

So. Much. Fun.

Ambrosia (Amb) Wellington has just received an invitation to attend the tenth reunion of her Wesleyan graduating class. When the email arrives, Ambrosia deletes it immediately. As she does the second email. Then she gets a note in the mail: “You need to come. We need to talk about what we did that night.” The who and what implied in this message is at the centre of Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s thriller The Girls Are All So Nice Here. Flynn’s first novel for adults (she has written three novels for young adults) is pretty much un-put-down-able. I started it one night when the book I was reading just wasn’t floating my boat. I read 100 pages and only stopped because it was a school night and I needed to turn off my light.

The novel flips back and forth between now, Amb in the present day, an executive at a NYC PR firm and then, when Amb was an awkward college freshman looking for a way to fit in. She arrives at her college dorm, Butterfields, and meets her new roommate, Flora, and although they’d been emailing back and forth over the summer, Amb seems to bristle when she meets Flora in person. She thinks about what she’ll say about her when she texts her high school bestie, Billie, recalling how they’d studied the pretty girls in high school, peeling “them like overripe fruit in marathon gossip sessions to lessen the sting of not being invited to their parties.”

Flora isn’t a mean girl, though. She’s kind and thoughtful and leaves cheerful, positive post-its on the doors of the other girls in their dorm. Her life at home, despite her wealth, isn’t perfect. Her long-term boyfriend, son of her mother’s best friend, is attending Dartmouth, three hours away. So the friction isn’t instigated or perpetuated by Flora; Amb’s insecurities are the problem. The low-key cool she’d cultivated back home seems misplaced here where “the girls seemed casually beautiful in a way that felt unachievable.” Then she meets Sloane (Sully) Sullivan, a girl with “a face that instantly held everybody’s attention.”

To timid, trying-too-hard Amb, Sully seems fearless. And she is, I guess, if your idea of fearless is someone who drinks, does drugs, and sleeps with just about anyone she crosses paths with. For whatever reason, Amb finds that she will do pretty much anything to get herself on Sully’s radar because when Sully “fixed her gaze on me. It was like being anointed.” Sully’s roommate, Lauren, warns Amb that Sully has “zero attention span”, but Amb is intrigued. Sully isn’t nice though, far from it, and she warps Amb’s insecurities and deep-seated desire to fit in into something toxic.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here, beyond being a page-turning thriller, has lots to say about female relationships. If you were ever on the outside looking in, you’ll relate to these girls. Even when Amb realizes that she’s being manipulated, Sully’s approval means more to her than doing the right thing. And the right thing might have prevented a tragedy which destroys more than one life. The book also has lots to say about a culture that still seems to pit women against each other. Instead of looking out for each other, these girls look for ways to undermine each other. It’s like Mean Girls on steroids.

“Our reign was short and bloody,” Amb recalls. She’s not lying.

Highly recommended.

Bloodline – Jess Lourey

I read Jess Lourey’s Unspeakable Things a few months ago and really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to reading Bloodline. It wasn’t quite the same reading experience, but it was a quick, enjoyable read nonetheless.

Joan Harken, a journalist, moves to Lilydale, Minnesota with her boyfriend, Deck. The impetus for trading big city life for small town living was a recent mugging, which left Joan shaken up and afraid, especially since she’s pregnant. Deck assures Joan that “Lilydale was peaceful, friendly. Everyone knows everyone, looked out for one another, The world outside might scream and swirl like a tornado, but Lilydale floated in a bubble, outside of time, as safe as a smile.”

It won’t take readers very long to figure out that Lilydale has some seriously creepy Stepford-vibes. We’re seeing things through Joan’s eyes – and let’s not forget she’s trained to be observant and ask questions. First there are the people who live on Mill Street, the street where Deck and Joan are to live in Deck’s childhood home. The town Mothers and Fathers give off definite cult-vibes. Then there’s the fact that everyone in Lilydale seems to know her business. As Deck’s father tells her “You have to understand how a small town works. We’re a big family here. You don’t keep secrets from family.”

Well, it turns out, you can keep some secrets and there are a lot of them in Lilydale. Some of those secrets have to do with Paulie Aandeg, a little boy who disappeared from his kindergarten class on his first day. Although it happened decades ago, the child was never found and later his mother’s house burned to the ground and she disappeared, too. When someone claiming to be Paulie turns up in Lilydale, Joan feels like she’s landed on the story of a lifetime. Unfortunately, she discovers, people in Lilydale aren’t all that forthcoming with information. As Joan’s investigation heats up, she feels more and more like people are watching her – not watching out for her as you might reasonably expect in a small town, but literally spying on her. When she starts to feel as though her life and the life of her unborn baby might be in danger, she becomes even more paranoid.

It’s interesting reading a story set in the sixties. Joan’s doctor allows for four cigarettes a day and that reminded me of an old Dr. Spock pregnancy book I found years ago. His recommendation: limit drinking to two cocktails a day and cigarettes to half a pack. Imagine. There are jellied salads, crème de menthe and Peter Pan collars galore.

Bloodline is a super-quick read. It’s straight-forward, page-turning fun.