Desert Isle Keeper
It’s been almost ten years since I last read an Erica Spindler novel. There’s no good reason for this lapse, other than that with many great books are released each year, I sometimes lose track of authors I love. However, with the release of The Look-Alike, Ms. Spindler has definitely regained my attention, and I plan to catch up on her back list just as soon as I can.
While walking back from a late-night study session at her college library, Sienna Scott literally stumbles across the body of a young woman who bears a striking resemblance to Sienna herself. It’s clear the woman has been murdered, and Sienna is understandably traumatized by her discovery. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t get the image of the woman’s broken body lying in the snow out of her mind, and as time passes and the case remains unsolved, Sienna begins to wonder if the murder is somehow connected to her. After all, she and the victim look enough alike to confuse the murderer, especially in the dark of night.
When Sienna mentions her fears to her father and older brother, both men dismiss her concerns out of hand. Sienna’s mother suffers from extreme paranoia, and Sienna doesn’t want anyone to think she’s inherited the mental illness. As a result, she doesn’t bring up her fears again, but her father decides she needs to spend some time away from home in order to gain a fresh perspective.
Ten years later, Sienna’s father has died, and she returns home to help care for her mother who is still battling paranoia. Most of Viv’s delusions center around someone trying to harm Sienna, and no one is sure how Sienna’s return will impact Viv’s fragile mental health. Still, Sienna is reluctant to saddle her brother with all of Viv’s care, so she decides to stick around for a while.
As soon as she returns to town, memories of the murdered woman come flooding back. To make matters worse, the police have re-opened the case in a last ditch effort to bring the killer to justice before the police chief retires. In spite of her best efforts, Sienna is drawn into the investigation, and it’s not long before she is once again wondering if she was the killer’s intended victim after all.
This is an extremely fast-paced book. It starts off with a bang and the pressure doesn’t let up until you reach the end. Ms. Spindler throws in some fantastic red herrings, and while I had my suspicions as to the killer’s identity, I didn’t know for sure until Sienna discovered the truth. There were so many possibilities, and Ms. Spindler makes each one feel perfectly plausible.
The romance angle is pretty low-key since Sienna isn’t sure who she can trust. However, I did find her blossoming relationship with a certain someone to be quite satisfying. There are a few big misunderstandings thrown in to complicate matters, but I found them to be believable rather than annoying. Some readers might wish for a bit more romantic intensity, but the understated nature of the arc worked well for me. It complemented the mystery rather than taking away from it, and that’s exactly how I like my romantic suspense!
Mental illness isn’t always handled well in fiction, but Ms. Spindler does a fabulous job bring Viv to life in an authentic way. Her illness is part of who she is, and I never felt it was used as a plot device. The novel contains some tough questions about how people with various forms of mental illness are viewed by society as a whole, but the author’s message doesn’t come off in a preachy way. Instead, Viv’s struggles really make the reader think even as they’re trying to solve the case alongside Sienna.
If you’ve never picked up an Erica Spindler novel, The Look-Alike would be a great place to start, and I believe it will appeal to returning readers as well. The characters are well-drawn and the plot is compelling. It’s a book I’m glad I chose to review, and I hope other fans of complex romantic suspense will pick it up and fall in love with it too.