It can be hard to find an author who writes the perfect blend of danger, suspense, and romance, but Lisa Jackson has managed to do just that with her latest release Paranoid. I haven’t read many of her books, but after reading this one I’m ready to hunt down some of her backlist.
Rachel Gaston did an unspeakable thing when she was seventeen. She killed her older brother. It was an accident – a bunch of teenagers got together to play paintball in an abandoned warehouse – but no one knew one gun was loaded with real bullets instead of paint. Both Rachel and her brother Luke’s lives ended that night. Once Luke was gone, Rachel was changed; the carefree girl she’d been is gone and has been replaced by a woman consumed with guilt in the aftermath of his death. It doesn’t help that there have always been those who didn’t quite believe what happened was truly accidental and have created their own narratives for what occurred.
Even decades later, Rachel still can’t escape the legacy of that night. Her life has moved on – in theory. She got married, had two kids, got divorced; but on the twentieth anniversary of Luke’s death the local paper runs a story about it, and the usual circus of gossip starts up again. Rachel is used to getting sideways glances, but this time it seems like something more sinister is afoot. She constantly has the sense that she’s being watched, and when an old classmate (who was at the warehouse that night) is murdered, the whole town is abruptly on edge along with her.
It’s been a while since I read a suspense/thriller, but after this experience I may get back into the genre. I was glued to the book while I read it and eager for each crumb of information. I can’t say I was surprised by the way things played out – upon reflection, the groundwork laid pointed to the eventual outcome – but it was so skillfully done that I also couldn’t have predicted it.
I think one of the ways the author kept me guessing was by focusing on a wide array of characters and their secrets. While Rachel is clearly the protagonist here, we also follow her ex-husband, her two teenage children, friends, and other family members at various times. I was particularly drawn in by the storyline concerning Harper and Dylan, Rachel’s kids. They’re so wonderfully, frustratingly imperfect. Like many teenagers, they manage to love, respect, and disrespect their parents all at once. Chapters from their points of view hint at secrets they don’t want their parents to know about, which in turn led to an agonizing few chapters as I waited for Rachel or Cade (her ex) to catch onto them. While vexing, Harper and Dylan definitely felt like real teenagers and added an intriguing element to the plot.
I picked this book to review because I was hooked by the thought of a woman who accidentally killed her own brother and interested in what effect that would have on her life. The author does an excellent job of writing a plausible story centered on that scenario. Rachel is clearly still haunted by horror and grief, and even twenty years later she has regular nightmares and is scared enough to check the locks on her house multiple times before bed. Yet she also works to be strong for her family, trying not to let her own fears get in the way of being a good wife and mother. These issues certainly played a role in the breakdown of her marriage, but as the book goes on and she sees more of Cade, they seem to be approaching a reconciliation. This mix of her being distraught over her brother’s death and determined to focus on normal life felt spot-on to me as the best possible outcome for someone who accidentally killed their sibling.
All in all, I would definitely suggest Paranoid to anyone looking for a suspense/thriller with a hint of romance. It certainly kept me on the edge of my seat.