Desert Isle Keeper
The End of Her
We all have secrets. We all want to keep them. But would we all kill to do so? That’s the question behind Sharil Lapena’s excellent new mystery, The End of Her.
Stephanie and Patrick Kilgour are overwhelmed. Their colicky twins seem to never sleep and the duo is operating in a fog of overwhelming weariness. Stephanie finds herself having dangerous accidents, such as leaving a pan on the stove and starting a kitchen fire. The hardest part for Patrick is that he is slipping at work – he knows he bombed his last client presentation and that his partner Niall was completely disgusted by his performance. He’s at the office coffee pot, hoping yet another cup of java might revive him, when he receives a shock that sends adrenaline coursing through him without the need for a hit of caffeine. Erica Voss, his first wife’s best friend and his former partner in adultery, is sitting in the lobby. Ten years earlier, Patrick’s heavily pregnant first wife had died in what the police ruled a tragic accident, poisoned by carbon monoxide as she sat in the car while Patrick dug them out of a snow-filled driveway. The cops believed he didn’t know the exhaust pipe was packed with ice but what the police never knew about was Patrick’s affair with Erica.
Now she’s back in his life and she’s threatening to go to the D.A. with accusations of murder, using the affair as his motive, if he doesn’t pay for her silence.
Niall Foote loves his wife Nancy and their little boy, and he works hard to keep his family happy and financially comfortable. He feels he’s owed some perks for his labor, namely the right to sleep around, but Nancy’s reaction to his last indiscretion made it clear she wouldn’t tolerate another. He’ll just have to be more careful because the blonde, voluptuous Erica, whom he meets at work, is signaling that she is interested in him and he has no intention of letting this opportunity pass.
He will soon wish he had. Niall is not just a philanderer, he’s got other secrets, too, and after she sleeps with him, Erica makes it clear she knows something – and she’ll talk unless paid to keep quiet.
A decade earlier, Cheryl Manning had beauty, wealth, position, and a loving husband named Gary but lacked the one thing she wanted with all her heart – a baby. Every attempt at IVF failed and costly attempts to adopt a child who looked like it could be hers fell apart at the last minute. Erica Voss, a dead spit for Cheryl, had shown up at just the right moment, pregnant and willing to do a private adoption which would leave precious baby Devin in Cheryl and Gary’s custody. But the pregnant Erica led them on a dangerous dance, forcing them to spend money they barely had in order to keep her happy and causing them to cross legal lines they would never have approached in other circumstances, always implying that she would change her mind about the adoption if they didn’t meet her demands. She’d left them alone after the birth, a fact they were extremely thankful for. But now, Cheryl catches a glimpse of Erica at the park where Devin is playing soccer and she realizes that the nightmare is about to begin all over again.
Cheryl is right. Erica quickly makes it clear she won’t leave their family alone unless they pay her to do so.
Erica has picked her victims carefully – or so she thinks. On the surface they are all gullible suburbanites, people who might have a lapse in judgment but who aren’t hard core criminals. But she’s in for a surprise – some of these folks are tired of playing her game. They want to quit, and as the stakes are raised, they grow increasingly willing to kill to do so.
What makes this tale so riveting is that on the surface, the characters are all so average. They are hard-working professionals, successful but not inordinately so. Even their temperaments are stereotypical, the kind of people whom most middle class Americans share a neighborhood with – the husbands are somewhat selfish, entitled white men and the wives excel at being nice but catty, ladies who are used to using ostracization and mockery as weapons but would never dream of taking things further . It makes the entire scenario feel as though it could happen to anyone, but as the story goes on we learn all our dramatis personae are multilayered; there’s a lot more to them than what we first thought which means we can never be sure what they will do next. That suspense is really what drives the story, not the physical events but the emotional, unexpected reactions of the protagonists.
Erica excels at blackmail. She pays attention to the people around her, figures out their hopes and fears and secrets and uses that information to her advantage. Faced with a genuine criminal she would be destroyed, but her suburban miscreants are no match for her threats because they are all desperate to maintain the façade of their perfect, superficial, conventional lives. I liked that the author made Erica simply one of many petty fiends, and that it is the characters’ own guilt over their misdeeds that allows Erica to leverage their faux pas to her advantage. She has a sly, biting way of speaking which always puts the listener at a disadvantage and uses it with stunning effectiveness to get what she wants. It was fascinating to see how her subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – machinations impacted the marriages of these three couples.
The pacing of this novel is quick and the last quarter of the book contains surprise after surprise after surprise. I loved it.
I have one quibble. I can’t go into details, but all three of these relatively young couples being blackmailed could have helped themselves by simply using technologies readily available in the 21st century. That thought ran through the back of my mind as I was reading and caused me a touch of frustration on more than one occasion, but Ms. Lapena had me so engrossed in trying to figure out just what was going to happen that I cheerily shoved aside my disbelief.
I read and listened to this book, switching back and forth between the formats. Narrator Karissa Vacker does an absolutely amazing job bringing this story to life and capturing the wearied, harried feelings of Patrick and Stephanie and the canny, cajoling, conniving, coercing voice of Erica. Hearing that voice, not so much what I read but what I heard, is what made me believe this character could be a successful blackmailer. Ms. Vacker has a clear, versatile manner of speaking, and excellent pronunciation and timing, making her a joy to listen to.
The End of Her is a terrific read for anyone who loves the suburban thriller market. I highly recommend it to readers of that genre or to anyone just looking for a good mystery.