Author: McKenzie, Catherine (Author’s Website)
Genre: Thriller, suspense.
Bibliographic: Lake Union Publishing, 362 Pages, Hardcover List Price $24.95, Paperback List Price $14.95, Audiobook List Price $10.49, Audiobook CD List Price 9.99, ISBNs 9781531863494, 9781477817940, 9781503937826
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Rating: ★★★☆☆/♥♥♡♡♡ (The rating scale is here).
Appeal Factors: Authentic characters, intricately plotted, suspenseful, compelling
Why I picked it up: I was browsing for suggestions of good audiobooks to listen to before leaving for work, and this is the one that I had open on my browser when I ran out of time and had to go.
S.I.A.S.: After moving cross-country to escape a stalker, Julie’s new neighbors are anything but welcoming.
Summary: Julie Prentice is having a little bit of trouble settling into her new home in Cincinnati, although she has made one friend: John Dunbar, the man across the street. They go running together, and eventually start to get a little too close.
Julie is the author of a mega-bestselling book, The Murder Game, which is about a group of law school students who try to use their knowledge of the law to plan and execute the perfect murder. She has based it partially on her own experiences: this is a subject that came up sometimes when she was in law school, and one of her classmates died under somewhat mysterious circumstances — but one of her law school classmates, named Heather, is convinced that The Murder Game is a stand-in for Julie’s confession. Heather has been doing increasingly weird things to Julie (such as leaving Julie notes written in her own blood). Eventually, it got to be too much, which is what has brought the Prentice family to Ohio in the first place. Unfortunately, the street they’ve moved onto is controlled by a woman named Cindy Sutton, who personally founded the neighborhood association and runs the neighborhood watch. When Cindy decides that she doesn’t like the Prentice family, Julie finds it more and more difficult to fit in. Eventually, she once again starts to fear for her family’s safety. But has Heather followed them to the Midwest, or are they being harassed by one of their new neighbors?
Evaluation: I enjoyed this book, although I doubt I’d read a sequel. The writing is okay, which is not a criticism: it does not distract from the story, either by being inauthentic or error-filled or by being too flowing and lyrical. The language simply moves the story along, without imposing itself on the reader’s awareness. The only times where the dialogue felt a little false were in John’s interactions with his son, Chris.
I liked the switches in perspective that let us see the story from both John’s perspective and Julie’s, although I wonder if perhaps part of McKenzie’s motivation for that was to create an extra layer of suspense which the story didn’t really need. In audiobook form, John’s sections were read by a different narrator than Julie’s, which really helped me remember who had said what and who knew which side of the story. It was also interesting to see how John’s wife Hanna was described by the different narrators, who obviously have very different opinions about her. As far as the audiobook goes, the other highlight was Cindy Sutton. Her PSNA (Pine Street Neighborhood Association) emails were read by a narrator who had no other role in the book, and she was absolutely fantastic. The only thing I didn’t like about the performance was that each narrator had their own voices for each character, so at first it was a little awkward to hear how they voiced Hanna, for example, and it took a little while to remember that these two distinct voices were the same character.
I think this book would work for thriller fans, although I doubt it will ever become big and buzzy, largely because of the lack of a dramatic twist. At the beginning of the book the reader is thrown right into the action, and you know that the Dunbar family is preparing to go to court, but you aren’t told which person is on trial, and while you find out halfway through that the charge will be either murder or manslaughter you don’t learn until the very end who died. (Maybe the author was trying to channel Big Little Lies, but this book is nowhere near as good as that one.) I would have no hesitations recommending it to someone who wanted a thriller without a lot of gore, or maybe someone who mentioned that they liked Desperate Housewives.
Significance: The main character of this book is a woman named Julie Apple who has written a book called The Murder Game. The author of this book, Catherine McKenzie, has written a real book called The Murder Game under the pseudonym “Julie Apple.” It will be published November 1, 2016.
- Because the book is told largely from Julie’s perspective, Cindy is painted as evil and unreasonable. Is this a fair portrayal based on her actions? How might the story be different told from her point of view?
- Were you surprised to find out who had died? Do you believe Julie’s theory about how the accident occurred?
- During his sections, John is quite open about how he finds himself to be attracted to Julie, but we hear none of that from her. Describe how their flirtation develops. At what point does it go to far?
- Chris and Ashley have an on-again/off-again relationship throughout the book. Is their relationship typical of teenagers? Why might they have chosen to so blatantly stay out together overnight?
- Julie freely admits to those around her that she struggles with alcoholism and depression, and is medicated. How is Julie’s mental illness portrayed as compared to Heather’s? What role do their mental illnesses play in the story?
Lists and Awards: None.