Desert Isle Keeper
In the Blood
The tag line for this novel is “Someone knows Lana’s secret and he’s dying to tell.” That’s actually not quite accurate. Someone does indeed know Lana’s secret – several someones in fact. But they aren’t dying to tell. They are killing the secrets one by one, until only their truth is left.
”Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can break your heart,” the child under the bed tells us. The words that broke Lana Granger’s heart were simple: “We have to talk. Don’t hide from me. There’s nowhere to hide from this.” They were uttered by her father as he dragged her out from under the bed. “This” is her mother’s dead body. “This” is the end of life as she knows it.
Several years later Lana is a psych major at Sacred Hearts College in The Hollows, New York. Her grades – and finances – had been such that she could have gone anywhere – Harvard, Columbia, Stanford – but she saw herself “moving dark and small, unwanted, out of place among the world’s financial and intellectual elite like a raisin in the sun.” Lana has made a home for herself at Sacred Hearts, making friends and finding a true mentor in her school advisor. It is her advisor in fact who helps Lana with her latest dilemma – finding a job. He recommends an after school babysitting position which will both look good on her resume and pay the bills. Lana has interned at Fieldcrest, a school for problem youth, in the past. This babysitting position will involve watching a young boy who attends that facility after school until his mother is home from work.
Her interview goes amazingly well and she finds herself feeling very at home with Luke and his mother Rachel. She is happy to return the next day to start her first shift as a working adult. There is a small glitch when Lana attempts to help Luke unpack and receives a mild tantrum for her trouble but things seem to resolve themselves after she puts Luke in his place. The two make peace over a chess set but it is a temporary peace, one that will wax and wane in the days to come. It doesn’t help that no matter how attentive to their play she is, how much she studies when she is away, Luke always wins. When Luke challenges her to a new game, a treasure hunt, Lana accepts. By this point she wants the distraction. Her roommate is missing and it seems that Lana, with her violent, disturbing past is the prime suspect in the disappearance. As she plays Luke’s game in an effort to distance herself from the uncomfortable things happening in the rest of her life Lana begins to realize something. While being a suspect might not be a comfortable place to be it sure beats being a victim. And she has a bad feeling if she doesn’t play the game right that’s exactly the spot she’ll wind up in.
The back blurb of this book tells us that Lana Granger “lives a life of lies. She has told so many lies about where she comes from and who she is that the truth is like a cloudy nightmare she can’t quite recall.” Adding to the nebulous nature of the truth we receive from our narrator is the fact that Lana is not just a liar but a young person with serious issues. By her own admission she takes a cocktail of antipsychotic, antidepressant medications. Her family history reads like something from a Stephen King novel. Is she, as she makes out, an innocent party to the games being played around her? Or is she a puppet master, pulling the strings of the unsuspecting?
And adding to the question of just who is playing what game is our second narrator, a diary which reveals the horrifying past of one of our characters. But which one? I can’t tell you. Like all well-crafted psychological thrillers this one builds its story brick by brick to lead you to a stunning conclusion. Even when you think you have guessed all the players and rules, a sudden twist will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew. I found myself thinking about this book long after I had finished it, re-reading passages to make sure I had gotten them right and re-reading the end just for the sheer pleasure of it. Finishing this book had me digging out the Lisa Unger books that were in my TBR and polishing them off as well. I found myself longing to go back to the dark edgy place she had taken me to. Most of her previous works were good but this one by far is the darkest and edgiest of her novels. It leaves the reader wanting to search under the bed and find just what is lurking in the shadows of their own lives.
It’s not just the mystery that is so skillfully woven but the characters are complex studies in good and evil, normal and psychotic. Just when is the line crossed from self-absorbed to clinically narcissistic? At what point does self-preservation become violent psychosis? Can we cure those who walk among us but feel nothing of their own humanity? These are all questions the author asks as she tells us her twisted tale.
Twist, turns, tantrums and terrors make this novel a must read for fans of psychological thrillers. If you are looking for something that doesn’t celebrate blood and gore but looks at the subtle layers that separate normal from violent then this is assuredly the book for you. Lisa Unger has crafted a fascinating, tantalizing tale that will leave you asking questions long after you put the book down.