A couple months ago I read the latest Harlan Coben standalone and though I enjoyed it, I felt like Coben was phoning it in and that his suspense novels had started to blur in my head. Then, I read this novel, plucked off the e-shelf at my local library, and I want to issue an apology. I’m not sure I fully appreciated the skill with which Coben constructs his narratives until I read this schlocky mess. I almost stopped halfway through this book, because it was making me crazy and annoyed, but I wanted to see how everything turned out. Then, when I got to the end, I was like, “Really. This is how you end it.” If the book hadn’t been on my beloved I-pad, I would have thrown it against the wall.
So, I’ve never read anything by Gregg Olsen before, but I gather he writes both true crime stories as well as suspense novels. I also noticed that this book was originally written in 2007 but republished in 2014, so perhaps this is an early work re-released after later works proved popular. The basic set up seems promising. Hannah Griffin is a CSI, specializing in child abuse cases, living in California with her police detective husband and young daughter. However, she has a secret. She is actually Hannah Logan, the lone survivor of a notorious tragedy on a tree farm in the Oregon woods. One night over two decades before, Hannah was rescued by the farm’s handyman, Marcus Wheaton, from a deadly fire that killed her two brothers and her mother. However, not only is Marcus linked to the fire but soon bodies are turning up buried on the farm and the police/FBI begin to doubt that the headless body found in the fire is her mother, Claire Logan. Instead, Claire seems to have vanished leaving a lot of death and one traumatized daughter behind. This trauma is reawakened in the present day when Hannah receives a package in the mail with two sets of tennis shoes in it that appear to have belonged to her brothers, along with a note signed “Mom.” As is often the case in novels like this, this event brings Hannah back in touch with the judge and FBI agent who initially dealt with the case and also brings to the surface a lot of demons that Hannah has been trying to suppress.
So, yes, the plot is classic thriller but the execution is so annoyingly clunky that I found myself getting distracted. The omniscient narrator flips back and forth between different characters, which shouldn’t be a problem, but you never really feel like you are truly seeing through anyone’s eyes. The dialogue is clunky. The pacing feels weird. Many of the characters feel like clichés. It made me realize that the power of a good novel of any genre is that you’re not distracted by the mechanics of the story telling. You may not like where the story goes or choices a character makes but you don’t notice the seams. Here, I was so distracted by the whirring and clunking that I had trouble keeping track of the story. .
I have a soft spot in my heart for thrillers with fast-moving plots where the past and present intertwine (the kind you pick up at the supermarket or the airport). I didn’t go into this book expecting greatness, but I was surprised by how annoyed I was by the absence of craft.