An eye-opening character-driven suspense novel (4 stars)
Source- a copy of this novel was provided to me by the author in exchange for a review
New Libri Press- December 2011
Suspense novels are one of my favourite genres; the grittier and more believable the better as far as I’m concerned! I was happy when Debra R. Borys approached me to review her novel as it certainly sounded like an intriguing read. Immediately upon picking it up it became clear that the author knows her subject matter well and I had difficulty in putting this down until I had finished it. I don’t want to give too much away however, because I certainly don’t want to spoil the plot for any potential readers!
Jo Sullivan is a Chicago reporter who finds herself caught up in the mystery of a missing homeless girl, last seen at a seedy funeral parlour, trying to earn herself some money. When suspicions come to light about the owner and his bizarre fetishes, Jo soon realises that the young girl may be in more trouble than anyone could ever have realised, and what was once just a job for Jo suddenly becomes something more personal. With the assistance of Chris, a fellow homeless teen, Jo is determined to solve the ghoulish mystery at Sloan and Whitesides Funeral Parlour, no matter the cost…
Some of the themes in this book were quite dark (drugs, abuse, prostitution- amongst others….), but the author does a great job in weaving them together into a compelling storyline. I found Sidney, a funeral home worker to be inherently creepy, yet that was what made him so interesting to read about. I suppose my only criticism is that we never fully find out just why he does the weird things he does. Then again, with someone like that, perhaps it is best not knowing and it all adds to the overall mystery!
I have to say that I found all of the main characters to be really engaging and definitely felt that as a reader I could get into their heads; not Jo especially, though she was certainly well written- I just felt for both Lexie and Chris. They (and their situation on the streets) was vividly brought to life, along with a realistic, grittier side of Chicago that not a lot of people get to learn about. Often I find that teenagers voices don’t feel particularly ‘realistic’ in fiction, but thankfully it wasn’t the case here and they definitely came to life during the course of this novel. It is evident that the author has invested a lot of time in getting to know young people just like those she writes about in this book, and Chris and Lexie have both made an impression on me. Chris especially, seemed jaded for one so young, but considering his circumstances it is hardly surprising- it did make me think about how fortunate I am to have grown up in a stable home with the upbringing I have had and how other young people aren’t so lucky. Some of the aspects of this book were really hard hitting and the author should be commended for tackling such important, relevant subjects in the plot and not shying away from some of the grittier details.
Speaking of Jo, I am so pleased that the author is working on another Jo Sullivan book, as a lot was subtly hinted at here but not fully expanded upon, which I am glad about- sometimes a torrent of information can be offputting, I am glad we get to know Jo slowly. Given some of her personal issues that were briefly alluded to, she undoubtedly has some great story-lines ahead of her- particularly relating to her family background.
I would not hesitate in recommending this well-written, fast-paced novel to readers who enjoy character-driven novels that aren’t afraid of taking a (large!) step across to the dark side. This is a promising start to what I hope will become a solid mystery-suspense series.