Desert Isle Keeper
He Started It
Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife was one of the most original thrillers I’d ever read, making it one of my favorite books of 2019. When I heard she was coming out with something new, I was quite excited, but also a little skeptical of her ability to craft something I’d love as much as last year’s release. Fortunately, Ms. Downing has proven herself to be quite adept at creating twisty stories with truly surprising twists and characters who will remain with the reader long after the final page is turned.
Siblings Beth, Portia and Eddie Morgan don’t get along all that well, and that’s been the case since they were kids. Now that they’re adults, they see each other as little as possible, each sibling going his or her own way without much regard for the way their actions might affect the rest of the family.
Everything changes when their grandfather, an extremely wealthy man, passes away, leaving his estate to be divided equally among his three grandchildren. However, as you might expect, the inheritance comes with conditions, designed to bring the siblings together for a cross-country road-trip that mirrors one they took many years ago. All three must complete the trip, and no one is allowed to end up in jail. Failure to follow these rules means giving up the money, so Beth, older brother Eddie, and younger sister Portia are determined to see it through to the end, no matter how unpleasant the trip turns out to be.
So the three of them set out on their way, reluctantly joined by Eddie’s wife and Beth’s husband, and the tension between them is almost instantly felt by the reader. These people don’t trust each other in the slightest, and although the reasons why aren’t fully revealed until close to the novel’s end, trust me when I tell you every single one of them is keeping secrets. These are people who look out for their own interests, regardless of how those interests affect the rest of the group.
The story is mostly told from Beth’s point of view, but there are some journal entries sprinkled throughout the book that add an extra layer of suspense to the already complex plot. You’ll be pretty confused at times, but that seems to be what the author intends, and it really does pay off in a big way at the end, so hang in there, even when you think you can’t stand to read about these characters for another minute!
The characters aren’t meant to be liked or trusted. It takes immense skill to write about such emotionally damaged people without managing to permanently alienate the reader, and Ms. Downing possesses this skill in abundance. I often struggle to connect with characters who come off as irredeemable, but my need to see how things would turn out kept me glued to my iPad for hours.
This is an extremely dark novel with a lot of subject matter that could prove distressing to readers who have trouble reading about themes of abuse, both physical and emotional. It’s not that the author is overly graphic in her descriptions, but the dynamics between Beth and her siblings hark back to their troubled childhoods, and watching all of that play out on the page isn’t always easy. I read a lot of dark books, so I had very little difficulty, but everyone’s tolerance for such things is different.
The ending is on the ambiguous side, but I honestly can’t imagine the story wrapping up in any other way. Neat and tidy endings are nice sometimes, but anything other than a messy conclusion would have been an enormous let-down in the case of this book. Still, if you need to have all of your questions answered when you reach the final page, you might want to give this a pass.
He Started It takes everything you thought you knew about domestic suspense and turns it completely on its head. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before, and I’m doubtful I’ll come across anything like it in the future. Samantha Downing has become an auto-buy author for me, and I’m beyond excited to see what she has in store for us next.