🙂 🙂 🙂 😐
Lana 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.
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.