I worked hard to try and lower my expectations for this one, because often when books get too much hype I end up disappointed. However, I could not contain my excitement and it STILL did blew my expectations out of the water. I kept thinking, “I know where this is going!”
Narrator: “She did not know where this was going”.
Verity is my first Colleen Hoover book, and she has already shot to the top of my favorite authors list. That’s how much I enjoyed this story. The two main character’s inital meeting, (if I had to describe that scene by the way, I would describe it as a meet-NOT-cute) felt a little too forced, but the following scenes and the way that they gradually opened up to each other seemed more natural. Once Lowen had moved into the Crawford home it was only a matter of time before her and Jeremy started to get close, since they immediately trauma bonded and the law of proximity was on their side. Despite how nice he seemed, I was already muttering “nope nope nope get the hell out of there” by the time she had unpacked her bags. In Lowen’s defense, she had nowhere else to go, but honestly anywhere would have been better than that spooky ass house. Any other female author would have read Jane Eyre already and known to get the hell out of dodge. Not Lowen… she was determined to continue reading Verity’s horrible autobiography and finish writing her books. I can’t blame her too much though, those chapters are like a horrifying train wreck you can’t look away from.
Hoover’s mind is a treasure, seriously. She had me hooked from the beginning and masterfully tugged me around like a plaything, simultaneously weaving horrible twists to unravel at the end. Even though I had no investment in the romance between Lowen and Jeremy, I still was riveted by the story due to the nature of the Crawford tragedies. Of course, I also had to know what was going on with Verity’s son. Everything to do with him had me on edge, and I felt so bad for everything he had to go through. The way that this story was structured was interesting too. By switching back and forth between Lowen’s point of view and Verity’s chapters, Hoover was able to raise anticipation and present more questions than answers with each section. It was unnerving and a way of storytelling that I haven’t often read. She definitely knows how to write a mystery and I am looking forward to hopefully reading more books like these from her in the future.
As I touched on before, I didn’t care if Lowen and Jeremy ended up together. I was too busy counting red flags to have vested much interest. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t give a nod to the spice in this. Some of it was explicit, but not sexy, due to the unsettling context and motivation. There is one section that gets steamy though, and since it’s written by a woman who knows how to write smut well, it gets 4 chili peppers. Enjoy that short reprieve in the midst of an unsettling story, heathens.
Overall, I thought this book was fantastic. It packs a punch for a story that isn’t actually that long and I think it would make an intriguing mini-series. I also would not be surprised if this is in the running for my top reads of 2022, and it’s only April. If you’re a fan of romantic suspense or mysteries I highly recommend you snag a copy of Verity.
I made the fatal mistake of starting this at bedtime and could not put it down until 3 am when my eyes started burning. I finished it in a day and have been thinking about it since. This was my first Karin Slaughter title, but certainly not my last. For the first few pages, I was a little skeptical, because she was descriptive in a distracting way. I don’t know if she cooled it with the adjectives or if I just got used to it, but within a few pages, that was the last thing on my mind. She wastes no time in getting to the action and she manages to thoroughly introduce the characters in a succinct way that leads right into the precipitating event. Even if you are used to reading thrillers, I doubt you will be entirely prepared for the intensity of the content and pacing at the start of this. Fifteen pages in the characters’ entire lives are upended completely when two masked strangers enter their home and the following forty-five pages describe most people’s worst nightmares come to life. Since this book has disturbing content I am going to provide trigger warnings at the end of the review with some page ranges. Also, note that if it is mentioned in the book’s description then I do not consider it a spoiler. If you are sensitive to violence and unsure whether or not you should pick up this book after reading the warnings, I would air on the side of caution and skip it.
This story has two main characters, Samantha and Charlotte Quin, who are 15 and 13-year-old sisters living in a town called Pikeville. At the beginning of the book, their family is adjusting to staying in a janky farmhouse after they lose everything in a house fire, and their father is partly to blame. Rusty is a largely despised defense attorney who is known for taking on the nastiest of clients and winning impossible cases. He’s good at what he does so it’s gained him a lot of enemies, and one of them is responsible for burning down the Quin’s home. In the first fifteen pages of the book, we meet the family through Sam’s eyes. Their mother, Gamma, is an exceptionally intelligent and independent woman whose parenting style could best be described as “no bullshit”. She loves her girls though, and Sam’s admiration for her mother is evident from the start. So when Sam and Charlotte watch as two intruders storm into their home and kill Gamma in cold blood, it is devastating, and the horror that the two of them live through in the aftermath is hard to read. The story picks up again twenty-eight years later with Charlotte working as a lawyer in Pikeville right alongside her dad while also coping with her recent separation from her husband Ben. As quickly as the author jumps from 1989 to 2017, Charlotte finds herself in the middle of another tragic event and reliving the worst day of her life. Vivid memories drag up secrets long since buried, and she is faced with a disturbing case to solve that may turn everything upside down.
There are so many things I liked about this book, but what stuck out to me about it is the way that Slaughter writes about trauma. I’ve read many stories where the main character has survived a traumatic event, but I’ve never seen an author so eloquently describe more than one response to the same experience. Both at the moment of the tragedy and in the years that follow the way that the survivors adapt to and process what has happened to them is quite different. Charlie screams bloody murder, her flight instinct kicks in, and then she goes into a state of shock. Sam is too stunned to scream, gives up any hope of saving herself, and then just as quickly starts to fight for her life. For years Charlie lives with the details of what happened to her that night, while Sam is missing all but bits and pieces of her memory. The moments that were the most devastating are blocked out, leaving just the sound of a scream, the scent in the air, and the desperate feeling she had to keep her sister safe. As adults, the ways that they approach relationships, view revenge, and talk about that night vary as well. I found the way that Slaughter described the events and the character’s experience of them to be strikingly realistic, which is what makes this such a compelling read.
The case that the Quin’s get involved in as adults, while unrelated to what they lived through as children, dregs up a lot of hostility from the town surrounding what happened to them. After the time jump, Charlotte is present at the scene of a violent crime that puts the whole town in an uproar. To her surprise, dear old dad believes that the culprit may actually be innocent, despite all evidence to the contrary. Before she knows it she’s caught up in an investigation that seems to bring about more questions than answers. And of course, it won’t be easy trying to find the truth in her hometown. You would think that the community’s rage would’ve been directed toward the men who attacked the Quin family in 89’, but Rusty’s negative reputation led the citizens of Pikeville to believe that they framed one of the men involved and were responsible for putting him on death row. Even so many years later they are despised and harassed for supposedly lying in court about that night. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, the local DA’s office and police force are made up of dirty cops who have never had any trouble dealing out justice as they see fit. Slaughter’s description of one of the lawyers in town describes Pikeville’s politics best, “Newton was one of those prototypical old white men who ran most of the small towns in America. Ben had once said that all they had to do was wait for racist, sexist old bastards like Newton to die. What he hadn’t realized was that they kept making new ones” (p. 429). The people who are supposed to be serving their community really just continue to abuse their positions of power. These are things that we as readers know to be true even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, but when you’ve experienced violence like Charlotte has, you recognize how this culture works in direct opposition to survivors healing and receiving justice. Then you add on the fact that Rusty has represented clients charged (and often guilty of) violent crimes and is adamant that everyone has a right to representation and a fair trial. That is a difficult pill to swallow when you’ve been through something like what the Quin sisters have, and Charlotte isn’t so sure his client is innocent. However, the attorney in her knows that no matter how horrific the crime, every person has the right to legal representation and that if she doesn’t find out the truth, no one else will. It puts her in a bit of a moral dilemma and leaves old wounds aching, but she knows that she won’t stop until she knows what really happened regarding both her present case and the night her mother was murdered.
This book had me hooked the entire time. I love crime novels and darker fiction and this one is definitely one of the best in those categories. I thought that the characters were realistic, the mystery unfolded nicely, and appreciated the few light moments sprinkled in here and there for a rare laugh. Charlotte and Sam had several good lines that made me actually laugh out loud and then immediately wonder if I was going to hell for laughing at such a twisted joke. I know that I’ll think of those quotes in the future and still laugh about them because they were so unexpected in the midst of a dark story. Finally, I enjoyed how Charlotte and Sam’s relationship with each other developed and how Rusty played a significant part in that as well. Normally I read a lot of romantic suspense, so taking a break from that to read one where the focus is on a sibling (and father-daughter) relationship was a cool change. There’s probably a lot more I could say but this is already a long review so I’ll just end this by saying that this could end up being one of my top books of the year and I’ve only read nine so far. A well-deserved five stars!
TRIGGER WARNINGS BELOW
Pages 17-39, 184-203, 404-418: Blood gore, gun violence, broken bones, bodily fluids, claustrophobia, suffocation, the verbal threat of sexual abuse, mention of sexual assault, mention of suicide, loss of a family member, murder, murder of a child from gun violence, school shooter.
Pages 404-418: ALL of the above with the addition of a graphic description of sexual assault
Page 377: Death (in hospital)
Pages 490-500: Mention of confirmed sexual assault of a minor, mention of infidelity, followed by a completed suicide by gunfire
NOTE: This is NOT an inclusive list of every potential trigger. There is mention of other subjects that readers may find disturbing. There are mentions of a stabbing, suspected child abuse, injuries, and gun violence at various points in the book. If any of the above triggers concern you, it is likely there could be other possible triggers on pages I haven’t mentioned. Read at your own discretion.
Cross-posted (a slightly shorter version) on my Goodreads.
I am constantly looking for quality romantic suspense to read. I blame Dee Henderson. She got me hooked on the genre with the wholesome love featured in her cozy mystery Danger in the Shadows and left me with an unfulfilled desire to read more books like it. Luckily, that book was a prequel to the popular O’Malley Series and she has written many other books since then. Although I’ve graduated to books with mature content and more complicated cases, I still revisit the entire series every two to three years and enjoy them every time. My love of romance with a dire backdrop has only intensified over time as I’ve predictably jumped from genre to genre. No matter if what I was reading was YA or adult, Fantasy or Contemporary Fiction, or something else entirely, I always gravitated toward books with love in the midst of danger. I tend to have trouble finding thrillers with well-written romance, but I still enjoy the search because Crime and Mystery novels tend to interest me regardless. For better or for worse I started watching procedural dramas such as CSI, NCIS, and Law and Order: SVU at a young age, and have not lost interest in them as an adult. Although I’ve mostly stopped watching them since I became aware of the controversial impact they can have on society’s perception of law enforcement, particularly in America, I continue to find interest in mystery and true crime content. This interest actually grew after I took a Criminal Justice course in college on juvenile crime. Since then I’ve enjoyed learning more about Criminal Psychology and got the urge to dive back into the world of Romantic Suspense.
I was excited to find Mary Burton’s book Never Look Back in one of my favorite small bookstores in Virginia in near perfect condition and was excited to see that she is actually a local author. It is listed as the sixth title in her Criminal Profiler series, but can certainly be read as a stand-alone novel. The story follows Melina Shepard, an investigator for the missing person division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) as she gets caught in the middle of two active cases. The story opens from the perspective of a serial killer as he sets his sights on Melina, unaware that she is an undercover cop posing as a sex worker. She is investigating two women who were abducted off the streets of Nashville while on the job and has taken the initiative to do some fieldwork without approval from her boss or any formal backup. The only person who is watching her back is Reverand Sarah Beckett, who runs a recovery residence for women struggling with addiction or trying to find a different line of work. After Sarah helps Melina thwart the killer’s attempt to grab her, she invokes his wrath and places a target on her back. However, there’s more than just one criminal on the loose, and she quickly finds herself paired with FBI agent Jerrod Ramsey, who finds similarities between her case and several of his own. As they get closer to finding the man who nearly got away with Melina, details of her past begin to come into play, and she is left with no choice but to reopen some old wounds.
As far as crime novels go I actually thought this one was pretty good. It definitely sparked my interest in the same way a procedural drama or true-crime podcast might. However, if you’re looking for romantic suspense, this isn’t really what you’re looking for. It doesn’t detract from the mystery, but the relationship in this has little development and is pretty dry. Both Melina and Ramsey are work-a-holics, which may give them something in common, but without more detail about their interests and personality traits, they read as rather two-dimensional. They also don’t have much chemistry. The few personal moments that they share are short and still centered on work for the most part. There’s almost no sexual tension and her connection with Ramsey could be easily replicated with any other coworker, including the Reverand. Usually, in these circumstances, I look to a spicy chapter to redeem the romance a little bit, but that fell flat too. If Melina was a real person and a friend of mine I would hold a small memorial service for the death of her libido. Again, is it absolutely necessary for the story to have a sizzling romance? No. Do I personally hope to find it in every single book I read? Yes. But, to each their own.
In regards to the other characters, I don’t have a ton to add. I enjoyed Melina’s parents and their small involvement in the story. Their relationship with one of the witnesses is extremely sweet and I thought it was a nice addition that contributed well to the plot. The witness herself, who is a minor, goes through a lot prior to her introduction to the story and I really felt for her. Melina’s small bond with her was great, and I would’ve enjoyed seeing a bit more of that. I felt that Sarah Beckett’s character was under-utilized in this story. She would have made a great friend for Melina and a relationship like that would’ve made her more lifelike. Whenever I read a story where the main character has no friends I think it limits the world-building a great deal. While there are many lone wolves out there, I personally think making both main characters loners limited their growth and made it harder to connect to them as a reader.
A lot of crime novel fans may read this and think, “Who cares as long as the mystery is written well?”. I understand that. I am in no way trying to knock this book. I gave it 3.5 stars for a reason, which on GoodReads falls between “I liked it” and “I really liked it”. The killers were frightening and they had clear motivations for their crimes. The way they executed their plans was pretty realistic and the details provided by the medical examiner and forensic pathologists were often disturbing but contributed to how Melina and Ramsey solved the case. Although mild, the tension grew as the killer faced obstacles and lost some of their restraint, which had previously helped them stay hidden for so long. The pace picks up toward the end and as the threat starts to feel more personal to Melina, I found myself getting more engaged in the story, which was great. It did seem to rush to a conclusion just a bit but it didn’t feel unfinished in any way. I also think the mystery would’ve benefited from more suspects and witnesses. More appearances from Sarah and the women from the Mission would’ve worked well for this. Overall though I thought the cases were intriguing, the antagonists were well written, and the end held a few thrilling twists.
While I wouldn’t rank Never Look Back as one of my favorite suspense novels, I enjoyed reading it a lot and will definitely keep an eye out for more of Mary Burton’s books in the future. She has a few different series, including one set in Richmond, Virginia, so I look forward to reading one of those in the future. This story helped satisfied my craving for a solid mystery and got me excited to search for more to add to my To-Read list! Are you a fan of romantic suspense? Do you have any favorites you recommend? Who are some of your favorite romantic pairings in fiction that are #goingthroughit? I’ll start. Two of mine are Bryce and Hunt from Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas and Ziva and Tony from N.C.I.S.!