By: Jennifer Jaynes
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: 5/9/2017
My Rating: 5 Stars
"…intricately plotted… The action builds to a jaw-dropping conclusion."—Publishers Weekly
In this tautly crafted tale of psychological suspense, a recently widowed mother resorts to the unthinkable to protect her shattered family. But does she go too far?
After mystery author Diane Christie loses her husband to suicide, she and her son move to the small coastal town of Fog Harbor, Massachusetts. Her daughter is attending college nearby, and Diane hopes that her family can now begin to heal. But rebuilding their lives after the tragedy isn’t so simple.
Diane’s depressed college-age daughter, Alexa, still avoids her, critical of everything Diane does, and even her generally amiable teenage son, Josh, has started acting out. Diane pushes forward, focusing on her writing and her volunteer work at a local crisis hotline. She knows that healing takes time.
But then a girl from Alexa's college is found strangled. Worse still, the murderer uses the crisis hotline to confess to Diane . . . and claims she is the only one who can stop the killing. And just when the glow of new love from an attractive admirer begins to chase away some of the darkness, more girls turn up dead, and Diane races to solve a mystery she fears will hit terrifyingly close to home.
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Talented Jennifer Jaynes turns up the intensity with her first standalone thriller: THE STRANGER INSIDE an edge-of-your-seat crime thriller solidifying her place alongside the best of female crime writers out today! Jaynes clearly belongs in the top echelon of thriller writers.
Sharply written, a psychological thriller both chilling and emotional- you can't wait to find out what happens - but you're not sure you want to know. Nail-biting action and an unexpected revelation you will not see coming.
The author’s most complex and intriguing novel to date.
Read what Publishers Weekly had to say.
“Monsters are real . . . they live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King
There is a terrifying serial killer at the heart of this equal parts mystery, thriller, and cautionary tale. A cross between domestic suspense and a mesmerizing psychological drama of motherhood, family loyalty, loss, guilt, redemption, and an unexplained evil.
As the book opens open there is a murder. A young college student gal is walking home. She heard someone, then in the blink of an eye, her life was over. This is only the beginning of someone murdering young girls at the college.
Meet Diane Christie, a mystery crime writer.
She had been married and had a five-year-old daughter she adored and the adoption agency called and said they had the perfect baby for her. A little boy who had been abandoned by his mother at the hospital.
Today her husband is dead (suicide), and her daughter Alexa who had just turned nineteen, showed nothing for her but contempt and disdain. She would love to repair her relationship with her daughter. It had been and uphill battle. Their life has been an emotional roller-coaster.
She would never give up on her kids.
Diane had moved the previous year with her sixteen-year-old son, Josh to the small coastal town of Fog Harbor, Massachusetts, to escape what had happened back in New Jersey and to be closer to her daughter Alexa. Hopefully a time for healing and starting over.
However, Alexa is withdrawn and hateful. She worries about her (stealing, depression, suicide). Diane and Josh reside in a quiet neighborhood with a landlord Mr. Davidson. He was also an avid mystery reader. This family needed a new start after the trauma of her husband's death.
Josh had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called pulmonary sarcoidosis shortly after they had adopted him at eighteen months. Because of everything he had been through medically, she could not help but be panicked anytime he exhibited symptoms of becoming ill. He was more laid-back than Alexa. He loved video games. He was a loving child and very smart. He tries to help Alexa with her relationship with their mother, acting as a go-between.
Alexa never responded to her texts and she was worried about her, especially with the recent murder. Alexa had been angry with Diane since she was five. Much had to do with adopting Josh, three years younger. He had been in the hospital frequently which meant time away from home. They had grown apart. Then her husband's suicide. Diane continues to pay her daughter’s bills and offer her support, even though she treats her with no respect.
Then a report came in that a University of New Cambridge student was found murdered.
Diane was a law-abiding suburban widowed mother of two teenagers. She had spent her entire adult life caring for and trying to protect and sacrificing for her children. She volunteered at a small crisis center.
Lance, is a Fog Harbor policemen and fellow volunteer at the crisis center. Lance was in his late twenties, about ten years Diane’s junior. He had magazine cover looks. He had lost a brother to suicide and had been volunteering at the hotline ever since. He had a reputation of being a playboy. He flirted with Diane; however, she was done with men after what she had been through with her late husband.
Mary Kate is also another volunteer with a family suicide in her past. There is also Ellie her friend back in New Jersey which is married. In addition a creepy man, Wayne – a store manager at the local Brookmart. Totally weird. He adds some nice humor.
Diane had a long roster of repeat callers at the center. People who she had helped in the past; some desperate for encouragement, a little hope, and a listening ear.
A call comes through the hotline. The caller stated the name of the girl, Katie who was murdered, yet the victim’s name had not been released yet, according to Lance. The person on the other end of the line said he was having a crisis. A robotic voice. A mechanical voice changer. It made her flesh crawl.
He was talking about the murder. Was the person confessing to murder? Did he have knowledge about what happened? The caller said he was glad it was she who answered because he said she was the only person who can stop it. What did that mean?
As a crime writer, Diane knew she tended to view the world through a darker lens. Wayne always bugged her, but he was harmless. At the supermarket, she runs into a guy named Rick. Rick turns out to be a very intriguing character. A former Marine sniper with two tours in Iraq with PTSD. Hot, good-looking, and the complete package. What is his background?
Josh was such a polite son and Alex a terror. There is an ongoing mystery about her former husband Frank. We get bits and pieces of how they had a whirlwind romance and then he became a stranger living inside her home.
Some of her sleeping pills are missing? Was Alex taking them? Josh is like a nerd. He is always trying to play the go between his mom and Alex. Even Alexa’s friend Trish likes her mom. Alexa is jealous.
The name of the victim was released. Katie Worth. A talented girl on a scholarship from Vermont. How did the caller know? Diane becomes convinced the anonymous caller was Katie’s murderer.
Diane invites Lance over for Thanksgiving, as a friend, and Alex continues to be a brat, jealous of her mother. Even her friend Trish likes her mom.
An ongoing message of Red or blue pills. The Matrix. Symbolism. The blue pill is like a sedative. It allows you to continue to live in ignorance. Protected from all the ugliness in the world. The red pill allows you to see the truth. The truth about everything, including the stuff you do not want to know.
Lance spends time at their house explaining that the most notorious killers appear very normal. "The worst monsters are masters at blending in. "
Alexa is depressed and socially awkward, plus she is overly critical of her mom. Diane bends over backward trying to get her to open up.
In addition, someone is posting terrible reviews (one-star reviews of all her books) on Amazon when normally she gets 4 and 5-star reviews. Who was writewellorquit777? Hateful reviews. Who is trolling her? (hilarious).
Between Alexa, the strange caller on the hotline, Lance acting strange and being overly flirty with her daughter and friend. Her daughter seems to be entranced by him, plus she is worried about her daughter’s mental state. Alexa is hateful, critical, nasty, cynical, depressed and unhappy. Even Josh appears to be off.
Alexa does not like Rick, knowing he had killed people, and lived in the creepy cabin in the woods. What was her mother thinking? She does not trust him. She once again trying to make problems for her mom when she finds she is interested in him. After all, Diane had married a nice guy and turned into something else.
Alexa attempts to plant suspicion and doubt in Diane’s mind and goes through his things. Diane has had enough of Alexa’s behavior. Rick the guy who lives in a hunting log cabin in the woods. He seemed guarded. Rick starts getting closer; however, she does not trust herself with new relationships. Can she trust him?
Her friend Ellie is going through a separation and sleeping on her sofa. (not sure how Diane gets any writing done with all this drama). Her friend warns her about Rick. Now Detective Chavez has been contacted about the caller at work. She trusted Rick. He was a great cook, a nice clean house, great classical music, and an inviting home, plus he was a reader with all the top names. He had guns, medical supplies, antibiotics, and water. Everything was organized. A survivalist?
With a serial killer on the loose and once again the caller says the name of the second murdered college student: Jill. There was no doubt in her mind that the caller was the killer, or at least involved with the killer somehow, but what reach out to her?
Now a third girl, Trish Underwood. Alexa’s friend.
What was going on? Why did the killer choose certain girls to kill, young and pretty girls with long brunette hair.
Between Lance, Rick (PTSD), a cabinet full of weapons, crazy Wayne, Diane’s caller, and her kids. Who can she trust? What does she have to do with the killer and why is this person calling her? Diane soon realizes she has to solve the mystery before this person kills again.
A mother is faced with the worst choice of her life. Will she resort to the unthinkable to protect her shattered family?
From a master of suspense, Jaynes explores the dangers lurking closer than you think. Even in the perfect family, you never know what is going on behind closed doors.
Riveting, chilling, mind-bending, heart-pounding. Dark and intense, the author skillfully plots and creates characters’ readers root for. Clever twists and turns continue to push the suspense with an array of suspects. High adrenaline, fast-paced action.
I could not put this book down and read in one sitting. Every time you think you have the killer figured out, the suspicion turns to someone else. However, the shattering conclusion will definitely not be expected. Testing the bonds of family.
This tense psychological suspense demonstrates Jaynes at the top of her game. A pro at creating twisty plots and emotionally devastating family dramas. Her characters are fractured, cracked and troubled and you sympathize with them.
If you have not read Jaynes’ books, I would highly recommend. An avid fan, adore her engaging writing style. She never fails to impress. She never takes you on detours or side roads. She always grabs your attention from the first page to the last.
One of my favorite authors and an avid fan starting with the Strangers Series: (click to read reviews)
Never Smile at Strangers
Ugly Young Thing
Don’t Say a Word
Fans of Lisa Gardner, JT Ellison, Tami Hoag, Karen Slaughter, Chevy Stevens, and Lisa Unger will be assured to enjoy THE STRANGER INSIDE.
A special thank you to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an early reading copy.
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About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Jaynes has always had a passion for writing, even if it took her a while to turn her passion into a career. After graduating from Old Dominion University with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and a minor in management, she made her living as a content manager, webmaster, news publisher, editor, and copywriter. Then everything changed in 2014 when her first novel, Never Smile at Strangers, topped bestseller lists at USA Today, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. At that point, there was no going back.
Since her debut, Jennifer has added two more novels to the Strangers Series and has released her first stand-alone. When she’s not writing or spending time with her husband and twin sons, Jennifer loves reading, cooking, and studying nutrition. She and her family live in the Dallas area. Read More