Desert Isle Keeper
It's One of Us
It’s One of Us is J.T. Ellison at her very best. A twisty-turny domestic thriller that examines the many ways to have a baby, and the devastation that occurs when you find the process is far more complex than expected.
Her morning starts with blood. Olivia Bender had not been expecting to flush this particular pregnancy down the toilet, but she has done that with so many others that it isn’t exactly a shock. What is a surprise is having to entertain the police over breakfast almost immediately afterward.
A DNA test has led the cops to her door. Turns out her husband Park has a son. A son who has murdered a woman in an eerily similar fashion to how Park’s college ex met her demise. The police are naturally inquisitive, and Olivia is naturally very confused. Fertility treatments, IVF, a pure diet, and dang near every other thing she has done have not resulted in her having a baby. She has been with Park through most of his teen and adult life. How, then, does her husband have a son she knows nothing about?
Park quibbles with the two detectives, assuring them they must be wrong. They push back, assuring him the test won’t lie. They are suspicious and questioning throughout their visit, but it isn’t until after they leave that Park confesses. As a college student, he’d earned a bit of extra cash by donating sperm. He has no idea how often it was chosen by potential moms nor how many kids he has sired as a result.
Scarlet Flynn doesn’t know exactly how many kids Park has sired either, but she does know her donor father’s sperm was used a lot more than the fertility clinics are ethically supposed to. So far twenty-eight kids – nineteen boys and nine girls – have matched with the DNA sample she submitted to an ancestry site. She has created an online chatgroup called The Halves for her fraternal siblings, and it is through them that she learns that DNA testing has proven one of the boys is a killer. But no one knows which one or where he is.
Olivia and Park quickly discover the killer is a lot closer than they think. He has made himself quite at home in their house, in their workplaces, and now, he’s planning to make himself quite a large part of their lives.
Infertility and the trials, travails, and anguish that surround the issue play a large role in this novel, so if that is a trigger for you at all, you may wish to avoid this book. The topic of sperm donation and the moral and ethical issues around that are also discussed, as well as abortion and some of the emotions and moral questions that surround it.
The author gets so many things right about this story. I loved how she uses Olivia to show us the role women have in conception and how that aspect of our biology affects us. From the hormones that rage through Olivia because of the fertility treatments to the guilt and shame she feels over a teenage decision, Olivia becomes our guide to the world of what happens when you don’t easily conceive. In a lot of ways, as the story progresses, it is easy to judge Olivia and even dislike her. Yet the author balances her nuances so well that we can still sympathize and empathize with Olivia’s desire for a baby and feel pity for all she has gone through to have one. I also appreciated the subtle pressure displayed by Park, who is (on the surface anyway) a fabulous, supportive husband but also one desperately in want of a child. Knowing that places an extra layer of stress on Olivia as she grapples with her infertility.
Park, like Olivia, becomes less likable as the story progresses. Where she is cool, calculating, and driven to the point she bulldozes over people at times to get to her destination, his more laid-back, light-hearted bonhomie personality only superficially hides his dark side. While Olivia’s coldness is a shield to protect herself from additional hurt, Park’s is actually his inner core. As in most thrillers, this isn’t just a nice couple going through an unimaginably horrifying development; the story unfolds to show us how, in many ways, this was inevitable given who they are.
I hasten to add these two aren’t psychotic, they’re just not very nice. Like real people, they have good and bad traits, but their bad traits lead them down slightly darker paths than most of us would be willing to walk.
Naturally, discovering that Park has not just one child but twenty-eight adds a LOT of tension to Olivia and Park’s relationship. That he had never told her about donating sperm turns what was simply a rather mundane decision into a devastating betrayal. The tale does an excellent job of showing how the desire for a child has taken them from being a couple to being a fractured family with a large piece missing. Also well done is how the author uses backstory to show us that the fissures in the relationship were always there, but that the fertility issue really, really amplifies them.
Scarlet, and her mother Darby, as well as the murderer, are all tied to Olivia and Park through his donation. They help us examine the ideas of nature or nurture and what role, if any, each plays in a person going down the wrong path.
The pacing here is just right. There are numerous narrators and jumping between them allows us to get a comprehensive picture of the action and also to have a constant forward momentum to the story.
The one quibble I had with the tale is its implausibility. As certain things happened, especially in the epilogue, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the sheer craziness of them. That’s where the excellent pacing really helped; for most of the story, I didn’t have time to nitpick. I was on a rollercoaster ride, and the thrills came from taking the twists and turns at a rapid speed.
It’s One of Us is by no means a perfect thriller, but it is an incredibly good one. If you like domestic noir, you should definitely give this a try.
I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
|Review Date:||February 25, 2023|
|Book Type:||Psychological Thriller|
Phew! This sounds tempting…
I might find the name “Park” distracting, however. :) I know it’s an actual first name (although not very common), but I always think of it as a Korean surname.
Parker is a super common name–I wonder if this is short for that?
I might have to buy the book to find out… :-)
I did a kindle search and the book only ever refers to him as Park, not Parker.
I’m from a family with all kinds of crazy names so I never think they’re weird in books.