Source: Review copy
Publication: March 23rd 2021 from Thomas & Mercer
My thanks to Sophie Goodfellow of FMcM and Thomas &Mercer for the opportunity to review
A decade ago, Emily Carlino vanished after her car broke down on a California highway. She was presumed to be one of serial killer Ronny Lee Jessup’s victims whose remains were never found.
Writer David Thorne still hasn’t recovered from losing the love of his life, or from the guilt of not being there to save her. Since then, he’s sought closure any way he can. He even visits regularly with Jessup in prison, desperate for answers about Emily’s final hours so he may finally lay her body to rest. Then David meets Maddison Sutton, beguiling, playful, and keenly aware of all David has lost. But what really takes his breath away is that everything about Maddison, down to her kisses, is just like Emily. As the fantastic becomes credible, David’s obsession grows, Maddison’s mysterious past deepens―and terror escalates.
Is she Emily? Or an irresistible dead ringer? Either way, the ultimate question is the same: What game is she playing? Whatever the risk in finding out, David’s willing to take it for this precious second chance. It’s been ten years since he’s felt this inspired, this hopeful, this much in love…and he’s afraid.
Successful novelist David Thorne has never got over losing his muse and the love of his life 10 years ago. Emily Carlino is thought to have been one of the victims of Ronny Lee Jessup, now incarcerated in Folsom after admitting the kidnapping and of 27 women. 14 of Ronny’s victims were never found, despite a thorough trawl of the very creepy basement his ‘house of horrors’. But Jessop believes he can come out of Folsom and bring these women out again so he is divulging nothing.
Motivated by grief and a healthy dose of guilt, Thorne has continued to visit Jessup in the hope that he can get him to divulge information about where Emily’s body is, so that he can lay her to rest. Jessop thrives on other people’s emotional vulnerabilities and so to get information, Thorne has to give of himself in order to get information. He believes that will help him atone and give some solace to Emily’s mother, Calista Carlino, whom he also visits regularly.
David lives on the East Coast, but writes in California; the place where he can best remember Emily. He’s there, dining in his regular restaurant, when a young woman walks in and just like that, into his life. For Maddison Sutton is the spitting image of Emily as she was 10 years ago. It is as if time had stood still. And Maddison is attracted to him as he very quickly finds out. It’s as if Emily has come back to him and he falls hard, all the while wondering how this can be possible. Before long, they are in bed together and though Maddison remains enigmatic, she is holding out the possibility of a lifetime relationship with him, if Thorne will just be patient.
But patience isn’t Thorne’s thing. He needs explanations and he isn’t about to give up his search for Emily’s body. It is both the possible explanations for Emily’s doppelganger and Thorne’s search for Emily’s body that the bulk of this novel explores. It is hard to pin this book down to any one genre but it is definitely full of suspense.
David uncovers more information about supposedly dead people who have subsequently been seen. There’s a nasty piece of work who now owns Jessup’s House of horrors and who charges Thorne to go round it as well as selling off souvenirs to ghouls who collect crime memorabilia.
There are definite hints of the horror that we know from Koontz’ work alongside some of the other-worldliness that permeates his work. But there are other elements, too that don’t fit quite so neatly into the box. Is Maddison in fact Emily, or some kind of contrived substitute? Koontz takes us down a path that we don’t recognise; this is not a predictable novel and in doing so he creates a tense and pacy novel that keeps the reader guessing.
There is horror, there are ghouls and there is certainly mystery galore. Every time you think you know what’s coming, Koontz wrong foots you.
Thorne needs to understand what is going on because he hasn’t felt this much in love since Emily disappeared. He needs to know what’s going on, but he is terrified to find out. The answer, when it comes, is surprising and you’ll have to make up your own mind about whether you love it.
Verdict: Fast paced storytelling with suspense, twists and thrills and a trip into the unknown with an enigma at the centre that will keep you guessing all the way to the end.
Dean Koontz, the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers, lives in Southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden retriever, Elsa, and the enduring spirits of their goldens, Trixie and Anna.