I don’t read a lot of suspense novels. I like books that are driven by characters, while most suspense is driven by plot. Hush by Anne Frasier is not a romance; it’s straight suspense. Still, it features characters who are more interesting and compelling than those in many of the romances I’ve read lately. And its suspense plot is so good, it gave me insomnia.
Sixteen years ago, the Madonna Murderer killed twenty-six people in the Chicago area: thirteen single mothers and their infant sons. He was never caught, and now a mother/child killing has been committed that has police detective Max Irving worried. Either the Madonna Murderer is back, or this is the work of a frighteningly accurate copycat. Irving is angry when the Superintendent of Police calls in an amateur to be his partner: Ivy Dunlap, a criminology professor from Ontario. Max doesn’t have time to babysit some Canadian do-gooder – and when he sees that Ivy is a relatively young, pretty woman who brought her cat to Chicago with her, he knows that she’s not going to be able to handle the stress of a serial killer investigation.
But Ivy Dunlap is not what she seems. A reclusive, melancholy woman, she has not come to Chicago out of academic interest, but because the Madonna Murderer touched her life in a way that changed her forever. She wants to stop him, and she wants to be used as bait. She knows that if the killer knew her true identity, he would not be able to resist coming after her.
We learn about the killer not only through Max’s police work and Ivy’s criminal profiling, but also through sections in his point of view. During these sections, we discover that, as diligently as Max and Ivy are investigating him, he is also investigating them. The closer they get to him, the closer he comes to striking out at them – or at the ones they love. Watching him close in on Max and Ivy is simply chilling.
Our protagonists – the cynical detective and the wounded woman – are not exactly new characters, but Frasier’s deft and profound characterization succeeds in making them come alive. She doesn’t tell us that Ivy is lonely and emotionally vulnerable: she trusts us to figure that out when she shows us Ivy’s devotion to her cat. Similarly, Max’s troubled relationship with his angry son Ethan gives us a glimpse of what lies behind his cynical façade.
There isn’t precisely a romance between Ivy and Max, but there is tons of chemistry. We watch their relationship grow from mutual hostility to dawning respect, and by the end of the book there are volumes of unspoken emotion between them. Again, the author doesn’t shove this down the readers’ throats; she trusts the reader to pick up on it.
One of the few things that I didn’t like about Hush is the way the author head-hops in the first half of the book. The sections in the points of view of Ivy, Max, Max’s son Ethan, and the killer are all necessary and work to draw the reader in to the suspenseful plot. But there are also sections in the points of view of uniformed policemen, the medical examiner, a crime lab technician, the mother of one of the victims, and so on. These do not work to do anything but diffuse the tension and remove the reader from the story’s narrative flow. (The warm sensuality rating comes not from anything our protagonists do, but from one totally unnecessary skanky sex scene in the crime lab technician’s pov.) It may be that Frasier has plans for all these characters in sequels, but these sections in which we see hear their irrelevant thoughts are far too skimmable.
In spite of that criticism (really a quibble), this book is darn good, a thriller that is genuinely thrilling. In a world with too many paint-by-the-numbers books about cops and crime, Hush stands out for its great characters, frightening villain, and ever-building suspense. But don’t start it on an evening where you have to be at work early the next day – Hush is creepy enough to keep you up at night.