Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Book Review: She Lies Close

By Jami Deise

Most modern domestic thrillers follow a similar trajectory and tone: Frazzled mother, something small happens, something bigger happens, then something happens to the child. The screws tighten predictably as the tension builds until the final climax of the book. The villain is revealed to be the heroine’s best friend/husband/next-door neighbor. It’s a good, satisfying structure that works. But sometimes it makes things a little too neat. Sometimes a reader wants to get outside the box just a little.

Debut author Sharon Doering breaks some rules in her domestic thriller, She Lies Close, and the book is that much more enjoyable because of it. Her protagonist, Grace Wright, is recently divorced with two young children. She finds herself in the middle of a mystery, but Doering recognizes that even while the screws turn, a mom has to deal with runny noses, dog issues, inappropriate humor, immature ex-husbands, and all the messiness of life. Sometimes a person can’t worry about the kidnapper next door because she has body fluids in the refrigerator. 

Pre-school teacher Grace has divorced her cheating surgeon husband Nate and moved with their kids, eight-year-old Wyatt and three-year-old Chloe, into the only house they could afford. She’s barely there a week when she finds out why the house was such a steal: It’s right next door to the only suspect in the kidnapping and disappearance of cute little Ava Boone. She had already thought her neighbor, Leland, was a creepy old man. Now she wonders if he’s paying too much attention to Chloe. Then, one night, she thinks she sees Ava in the window… 

Has Grace found Ava, or has her single-mom insomnia caught up with her? Grace has a bizarre sense of humor, and weird things seem to happen around her; the book opens with Grace running into a colony of bats and needing rabies treatment as a result. She’s already on ADD medication and stressed out over the divorce. The news about Leland sends her into a complete panic. She tracks down the Boones to try to find out more about Ava—not surprisingly, this doesn’t go well. She’s late and distracted at the pre-school where she works. And then the dreams start…

Doering’s concept has a “what would you do” subtext that resonates beyond the particulars of her plot. Grace’s situation may be unique, but many women find themselves counseled that nothing can be done about low-grade stalking, implied threats, etc. until the guy actually does something. So they are sitting ducks, waiting for him to act on his worst impulses and offering themselves up as bait. It’s an unbearable situation, and it’s just as unbearable for Grace, waiting to see whether the monster next door will try to hurt her daughter. Because of this compelling thread, even the scenes that don’t feature the mystery have an underlying tension. 

Other than a few eye-rolling coincidences, Doering’s debut is a refreshing addition to a still enjoyable, but somewhat predictable, genre. Congratulations to Titan Books for finding this author. I look forward to her future releases. 

Thanks to Titan Books for the book in exchange for an honest review. 

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