In the Blood by Lisa Unger

Dark undercurrents…

🙂 🙂 🙂 😐

in the bloodLana Granger’s childhood hasn’t been easy. A problem child with a personality disorder that even the professionals can’t quite pin down, she has also had to deal with the violent death of her mother. Now at college, the conditions of her trust fund mean she has to look for work and so she takes a job childminding for Luke, an 11-year-old boy with psychological problems of his own. But somehow Lana feels an affinity for him, and feels sorry for his mother, struggling on her own to cope with Luke’s violence and temper tantrums that have seen him expelled from one school after another. Luke is also a master of manipulation and soon Lana finds she has been sucked into playing his sinister games. And then Lana’s best friend Beck goes missing, mirroring the disappearance of another girl from the college a couple of years earlier…

So long as you can suspend your disbelief, this is a decent psychological thriller. Told mainly by Lana in the first person (but thankfully past tense – yay!), there are also chapters given over to extracts from the diary of an unnamed character, and part of the mystery is trying to work out who this person is. The writing is of a good quality throughout and, while it’s hard to believe that so many seriously damaged people have all come together in one place, the characterisation is nonetheless strong and convincing for the most part. Lana herself is an intriguing character who is easy to like, even though the reader is aware of the dark undercurrents of her personality that are only kept under control by medication. The first person narration does mean that we know all the way through that Lana is holding things back from us though, which creates a feeling of distance and stops the reader from fully empathising with her. Luke starts out very convincingly but becomes increasingly less believable as the story unfolds. The character writing the diary, herself the mother of a disturbed child, gives a compelling picture of the tensions and problems this can bring to a marriage and wider family relationships.

Lisa Unger
Lisa Unger

So lots of good points and a fairly page-turning read on the whole, but the book does have one major and glaring problem – it’s way too easy to work out early on all the twists that are supposed to come as surprises at the end. In fact, the major plot point – i.e., whodunit – was so obvious from the moment we met the character (when the person did something that could only have been done if that person had ulterior motives) that I spent the rest of the book expecting that the author must be going to find a way to turn that reveal on its head further down the line – but she didn’t. The other major twists had become blindingly obvious by about halfway through, and from there on in there wasn’t much left to be surprised about. I am no Miss Marple – it’s very unusual for me to work out a mystery, so the fact that this one was so obvious to me suggests serious problems with the structure of the plot. Definitely fair-play, in that all the clues are there, but not well enough hidden to maintain any level of suspense I’m afraid.

Despite these fairly major problems, I enjoyed the writing and characterisation enough to be keen to read more of Unger’s work in the hopes that the plotting problems in this book are a one-off. But those problems, combined with the level of credulity-stretching in the story, mean I can only recommend this one half-heartedly.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Touchstone.

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Amazon US Link

33 thoughts on “In the Blood by Lisa Unger

  1. This one sounds so interesting! The first half of your review makes this professor want to read it. I’m curious about Luke, and Lana–off the medication! But are you sure it would be apparent to the professor? I’m worse than you at such things.

    🙂 I smile every time you use a Brit saying!

    • I bet Lana would have a really evil chuckle if she stopped taking the pills, but not as evil as Luke’s! I don’t know – I guess the more of these books you read, the more likely you are to spot the twists, so maybe the Professor wouldn’t…though by the time he’s worked through his TBR he’ll be an expert!

      What Brit saying did I use?

        • Not to heroes like us, but to ordinary people – yes!

          I hadn’t realised they were Brit expressions. One-off just means the only one, or unique. Childminding – I can’t think what Americans call this at all…it just means looking after somebody else’s child. Baby-sitting? But for older children as well as babies.

            • I know! That’s why they don’t let you appear in these books – it’s be too obvious you’d always win!

              Me?? Am I the one who calls people nose tackles? Who is it who calls ice lollies popsicles? Hmm?

            • I wish I could live up to the professor you envision. I’ve trapped myself.

              I’ve been thinking on that, and I bet the reason is they line up across from each others’ noses. I do hope I’m wrong. That sounds so ridiculous.

              Popsicles is the only name. Ice lollies is ridiculous. Do you ever call them ice suckers?

            • I think my impression of the Professor is probably very accurate… 😉

              😆 I hope you’re right! Ridiculous is good! I mentioned to ForeignFilmFan (big brother) that I’d been watching American Football and he laughed me to scorn…

              No, I try not to give them nicknames…it makes the whole process of eating them too emotional.

            • 😀 But is the Professor’s impression of FF so accurate? I wonder…

              😆 Yes! No! In fact, he was extrememly rude about the whole thing, and refused to even be impressed by my in-depth knowledge of nose tackles. Then he went on to be equally rude about baseball and basketball. (Frankly I rather regretted bringing the subject up in the end… 😉 )

              Oooh, no – cruel! I couldn’t eat Bambi! (Not without a nice sauce anyway…)

            • Well, tell me about yourself, and I’ll tell you.

              Does he know anything about the sports? (I remember! He was the rude fellow who needed beaten about the head, wasn’t he?) Tell him to be nice, or he’ll become dadblamery.

              😆 Such a hypocrite.

            • Well…cute and adorable just about sums it up, I think… 😉

              He does – he’s a bit of a sports fan…more than a bit, actually. (Yes, that’s him!) He’s quite nice…sometimes!

              Honesty is the best policy!

            • Ok, I’ll tell you something that will really surprise you…I’m Scottish! There, I bet the Professor feels he knows FF better now…

              (Partick Thistle, actually.)

  2. am mulling over your comment about hard to believe so many damaged people
    are together in one place . . .but will let that slide by without mentioning Congress,
    and compliment you instead on an interesting review. thank you.

  3. FictionFan – I do like a solid psychological mystery. And it’s good to know that the pace and characters keep the reader engaged, even if the ‘whodunit’ part is easy to work out. Sometimes those domestic stories, if I can call them that,really can be creepy even if there are some things they lack.

    • I do too – and this was good overall. I liked her writing style and, if it hadn’t been quite so obvious what was happening, it would have built up well towards the end. I think she’s fairly new to it, though this isn’t her first one, so I expect she’ll get better at hiding the clues. One to watch…

    • I agree! And it’s something I’m not very good at – I really like the basics to be possible at least. But I suppose it’s hard for writers to keep coming up with original plots…

      And thanks. 😀

  4. Hmmm…. well you haven’t added to my TBR because I already have this one to read. Like you, I’m often not the best at working out whodunit. I now have to forget what you have said before I read the book for myself 😉

    • Yes, I seem to be struggling with crime books at the moment – they seem to be getting a bit too far away from realism for my taste. Oh well! Some good ones coming along soon from some of my favourite authors, so here’s hoping…

  5. I’ve been seeing this author around a lot lately; glad to read your review and get a good idea of pros and cons. (I love plot twists and am quite disappointed if I figure things out too easily.)

    I read a novel in the past tense this week, too. It was refreshing. 🙂

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