A Dark and Secret Place; serial killer thriller that falls under the weight of its own storytelling

A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams | Publisher: Crooked Lane Books | Genre: Thriller | Find it on: Goodreads| Publishing: 8 June 2021

Hot Take: A trope filled thriller that has something every thriller fan can love, but not enough originality to make me come back to this author again.

Heather’s mother has just died, but when one thing is buried it means you may be digging up secrets. And that’s exactly what Heather gets when she returns to her childhood home to lay her mother to rest. A serial-killer copycat is on the loose, and the original Red Wolf only wants to talk to Heather…just like he talked to her mother.

“Bluebells are often a sign that the wood is an ancient one. Wood anemone, primroses, too. We have them all in Fiddler’s Wood.”

This book had my favorite new thriller trope: main character discovers they may have close ties to a serial killer; and my least favorite tropes: plot exposition through creepy old photographs, villains that aren’t really villains but still very much villains, go nowhere romances with police detectives.

According to her bio, Williams is a true-crime fan, and when the book begins you can see that in her writing. The details are gritty and believable if you’re in the true crime space (fact is stranger than fiction), and she paints a terribly realistic serial killer that’s interesting enough for a thriller. In fact, I was in love with the first half of this book. It was a mystery, it had jump scares, the jumps between past and present narrative worked in forcing me to read just one more chapter before calling it a night.

But then, the plot hit a wall.

Williams started to pull in too many different thriller-narrative-tricks and the story fell under the weight of trying to be a little of everything. There’s the serial killer helping the cops, Heather’s strange and mysterious connection to him, her one night stand with the police detective working the case, her mom’s neighbor who may or may not be who she says, the best friend who only show up to move the plot along, and a few sections of trying to turn Heather into an unreliable narrator while also making the things she sees concrete and seen by other characters.

As all these elements compete with each other for space, a few of the most interesting plot lines get dropped or, those that are resolved, aren’t given their due.

Williams started with a brilliant concept and, even if the serial killer solving crimes isn’t a unique plot, a unique killer with a unique motivation. But that brilliance didn’t quite last through the last page. A good book, but not one that sticks in your mind after it’s finished.

WATCH WHILE YOU WAIT: Prodigal Son (FOX, streaming on HULU)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Read it? Adding it to your TBR? Disagree?  Let’s talk in the comments!

*Thanks to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for the review copy!*

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