They call Alice Feeney “The Queen of Twists.” It’s an apt title — Daisy Darker‘s revelations come at nearly a twist-a-chapter clip — but don’t let it fool you into thinking Feeney’s work is all about the gimmick. Her latest novel stands strong on its characters and setting; the constant game-changing revelations are the icing on an already delicious cake.
On page three of Hayley Scrivenor’s excellent Dirt Creek, the body of 12-year-old Esther Bianchi is exhumed from a shallow grave. From there we journey back a few days and watch as her disappearance, and the subsequent investigation into it, causes ripples through a small Australian town.
I know small towns, because I’ve lived in them my whole life. Scrivenor may be writing about Australia and I may be living in Alabama, but location is the only difference between her rural and my rural. If you’ve never lived in a small town, Hayley sums up the experience perfectly with one sentence:
Everything and everyone touching everything else.
I about shouted “Hallelujuah!” when I read that, because it’s so true. That line comes near the end of the book, and rang so true after having spent several days in Scrivenor’s creation, watching how the characters’ lives and decisions wind around each other in an ever-tightening noose of comfort and danger.
Scrivenor tells her story through a variety of characters, including poor Esther’s parents, her friends Ronnie and Lewis, the detective struggling to learn the town and find the killer (all while dealing with a recent loss of her own), and finally with a collective voice — a “We” — employed to give the perspective of the community as a whole. These are people you will suspect, pity, grow frustrated with and weep with. These characters are the lifeblood of the town and the lifeblood of this story.
Esther’s death is a tragedy, but it’s far from the only one this town suffers in a matter of hours and days. Scrivenor makes you feel each one, makes you wallow in the waves of hope and despair, forces you to feel the impact of Esther’s death. Thankfully, we also get glimpses of the impact Esther’s life had on those around her. She is a small but necessary light in this otherwise grim tale.
I can’t wait to see what Hayley Scrivenor does next. Dirt Creek is highly recommended.
Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak
Flatiron Books (May 10, 2022)
384 pages; $25.19 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Chris Hallock
Jaded readers may approach new fiction with skepticism; however, Jason Rekulak’s eerie new work Hidden Pictures proves that the genre is ever-evolving. Rekulak’s latest character-driven work (following up his Edgar-nominated debut The Invisible Fortress) benefits largely from an isolated setting, clever twists, and a compelling protagonist who finds herself ensnared in a tragic supernatural mystery. The author layers his ghostly tale with intriguing psychological and cultural components that enrich its taut narrative, while exposing the sinister underbelly of its suburban setting.
“It was barely eleven and Carmen Valdez already wanted to die.”
Doesn’t exactly sound like someone working at their dream job, does it? Carmen Valdez knows that being the secretary for the owner/editor-in-chief of Triumph Comics isn’t what she wants, but she’s hoping it’s at least a foot in the door…a first step on her journey to writing comic books for a living.
Nadja Kulka was convicted of a serious crime as a child, did her time, and is doing her best to move on. She lives a quiet, lonely life, happy for even the slightest attention given her by the closest thing she has to a friend — a woman named Laura. Laura’s been keeping to herself lately, but when something in her life goes horribly wrong, she runs to Nadja for help.
Soon, Nadja finds herself entangled in the violent aftermath of an extramarital affair gone wrong. Nadja, Laura, and Laura’s husband, Gero, all have their own agendas and objectives, and it all comes to a head with life-altering consequences.
Something’s very wrong with Mr. and Mrs. Wright.
Yeah, Alice Feeney went there. The troubled couple at the center of her new novel, Rock Paper Scissors, are the Wrights, Adam and Amelia. They’ve grabbed their dog Bob and headed to a remote chapel-turned-bread-and-breakfast in the Scottish Highlands, where they hope to spend a snowy weekend piecing their faltering marriage back together., If you’re guessing that the only thing that holds more secrets than the Wrights is a remote chapel in the Scottish Highlands, you’re absolutely Wright. Uh, “right.”
When I saw Christine Mangan had a new book coming out, I jumped at the chance to read it. I read her debut, Tangerine, three years ago and really enjoyed it. After finishing her newest novel, Palace of the Drowned, I realized Mangan has found her niche. Hollywood film-style noir, brimming with atmosphere, and mixed with slow burning tension is what Mangan does best.
There’s a quote from Benjamin Franklin at the beginning of Behind Her Eyes. It provides a clue, of sorts, as to the devilish nature of the story which follows.
Three can keep a secret if two are dead.