Saturday, June 4, 2022

Library Loot Reviews: Two "It" Suspense Novels

While my eyeball reading has been floundering like a beached fish in 2022, my audiobook listening has largely been on point thanks to bingeing mystery/suspense.  I recently leveraged my library card to listen to two "it" books that everyone seems to be talking about right now.  One was successful and one was...well, read on MacDuff.

There was already a ground-swell of buzz that Like a Sister would be Kellye Garrett's "breakout book" but it was Veena's review that pushed me over the edge to pick it up, and I'm glad I did.  

Lena Scott hasn't spoken with her half-sister, former reality TV star, Desiree Pierce in two years. The narcissism, the drugs, the complete disregard for the people who truly love her - Lena had enough. She walked away. Well, sort of. She's still stalking her sister's social media accounts.  That's how she knows Desiree is back in New York.  The New York Daily News is the one to tell Lena that Desiree is dead, of a suspected drug overdose. But right from the jump the whole thing smells wrong to Lena. Desiree did booze and coke, not heroin - and sure as hell Desiree wouldn't have stuck no needle in her arm.  Unless more has changed in two years than even Lena knows about.

What follows is Lena chasing down leads into her sister's death and trying to reconcile with her messy family situation.  Dad is a notorious hip-hop mogul who left Lena's mom to marry her BFF, and Lena was essentially caught in the groundswell of antagonism between the two. Meanwhile Desiree was the pampered princess turned party girl always chasing influence and fame.  That can make a girl a lot of enemies, but enough to kill her?

I am a sucker for suspense novels that explore the seedy side of celebrity culture and this one has it in spades, taking on reality TV and social media influencer culture in all it's grossness.  But I also loved Lena, back in a New York to work on her master's degree at Columbia and slowly unpacking her messy familial relationships.  I was a little lukewarm on the final whodunit, but upon reflection it "fits" and Garrett threw in plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing and entertained.  A solid, enjoyable listen on audiobook.

Final Grade = B+

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Sigh. A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham has already been sold to actress Emma Stone's production company because apparently nothing was learned when they decided to make a film adaptation of The Girl on the Train. That's right kids! We have another book with a female protagonist who is gorked out on booze and pills with trouble distinguishing between reality and her own paranoia!  Oh. Joy.

When Chloe Davis was 12-years-old her Daddy was convicted of murdering six teenage girls.  Twenty years later, living in Baton Rogue and on the cusp of getting married, Chloe is a respected psychologist who has just set up her own practice. Of course she's popping Xanax like Tic-Tacs and throwing back plenty of red wine, but minor details.  Then the first teenage girl goes missing, and then another.  Chloe sees parallels with her father's crimes and soon becomes even more paranoid when she discovers the missing girls are all connected to her in some way or another.

Apparently we aren't past the paranoid heroine gorked out on substances running off half-cocked trope.  As is always the case with this trope, you spend the majority of the book trapped inside the heroine's gorked out brain, which is about as fun for me to read as nails on a chalk board. Probably too much Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton reading as a teenager - I want all the Competent Heroine Porn I can get in mystery/suspense and Gorked Out On Substances ain't it.

Anyway, the other problem with this trope is you know where it's going before it gets there.  Of course it's going to be someone "close" to the heroine and Willingham only provides so many options (OK, two. Two options).  If you've been down this road before you know right off what the whodunit is going to reveal, and sure enough I did.  However, it's not all Wendy being a Crabby McCrabby Pants. Willingham does throw in a couple little twists to at least make the obvious denouement interesting.

The only reason I got through this was because I listened to it on audio and frankly I need something to listen to on my walk breaks during the work week.  The first 60% was pretty much an eye-crossing slog for me (have I mentioned how much I hate this trope?)  but once I got past the point of no return I inhaled the final 40%.  But this is where I get off the train. Willingham's next book is about a heroine who is gorked out of her skull because she suffers from insomnia.  Blergh.

Final Grade = C-


azteclady said...

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the honesty re: heroines that we can't trust because of addiction.

I'm not saying people with addiction don't deserve to be leads in their own stories, but there's only so much of that kind of unreliable narrator I can take.

Wendy said...

AL: I struggle with an unreliable narrator. The last one I can recall that I dug was the hero in Nalini Singh's Quiet in Her Bones. But these heroines mixing pills and booze, suffering from insomnia or whatever - they're just SO. EXHAUSTING. There's always this rambling, frantic quality to the stories and instead of wanting to find out whodunit I want to reach through the pages and smack some sense into them.