When we first meet Laura Oliver & her daughter Andrea, they seem to have a close, dependent relationship. But make no mistake. These are 2 very different women. Laura is an elegant, self assured speech therapist in a small community outside Savannah. Andy is mousy & introverted, working night shift as a police dispatcher. She comes across as paralyzed, incapable of making any decision that would help her climb out of her rut & get a life.
It’s Andy’s 31st birthday & they are celebrating in a diner when a traumatic event changes everything. I won’t go into details but suffice to say Andy see a side of her mother she never knew existed. So does the rest of the world as cell phone video of the incident quickly goes viral. In short order, Andy finds herself on the run, armed only with a list of cryptic instructions given to her by Laura.
In alternate chapters set in 1986, we meet a woman named Laura who lost everything that ever mattered to her. She knows who is responsible & travels to Oslo to make him pay in spectacular fashion. She does a bang-up job. Among the victims is a wealthy American businessman & over the course of chapters set in this time period, we spend time with his uber-dysfunctional family as they come to grips with the fallout.
In the present Andy is on a dangerous road trip that will lead to jaw dropping discoveries about her own identity as well as her mother’s past. It’s only as we gradually understand the historical story line that it’s implications in the present begin to sink in. And the hits keep coming right up to the final page.
This is very different from previous books I’ve read by this author. What hasn’t changed is her ability to deliver an intricate plot, stunning twists & events that push you to the edge of your comfort zone. But for me it was very much a book of 2 parts & to be honest, I found the first half a tough slog. After the initial excitement dies down, the reader spends a lot of time alone with Andy & I found her a tiresome travelling companion.
Her chapters consist of very little dialogue as she interacts with few people. Instead we ride shotgun & listen to her every thought as she flees. She covers the same ground over & over again in an endless loop of despair. I had to keep reminding myself she was 31 as her behaviour & emotional maturity was more in keeping with those of a teenager. And at the risk of sounding like a heartless bitch, I just couldn't take the endless sobbing. I get that she went through a traumatic experience but I didn't need approx. 100 pages describing how she cried to get the drift.
The chapters detailing events from 1986 are much more intriguing. We know it has to somehow link with Laura Oliver’s past & part of the challenge is trying to figure out her real identity. In these passages, we begin to see the similarities between Andy & her mother’s younger self. As the book hit the second half, tension ramps up in both time lines & the past crashes into the present. And at the risk of entering *spoiler* territory, I’m happy to report both women eventually grew a spine. The second half saved the book for me as the scope of the plot became apparent & more, interesting characters took up the story.
Just a heads up: there are scenes that will make some readers uncomfortable. Emotional & physical abuse are central to the story line & while you may not like some of the characters, it’s clear they are products of their experiences.
So how to rate this. I settled on 3.5 stars (3 for the first half, 4 for the second). While this may not be my favourite book by Ms. Slaughter, she sets the bar pretty high & I’ll definitely read whatever twisted tale she comes up with next.