In the Blood by Lisa Unger

In brief: Lana has tried to leave her past behind for college. She thought she succeeded, until babysitting problem child Luke starts to meddle in her affairs. Could her missing friend be the victim of something more sinister?

The good: Plot definitely draws the reader in.

The not-so-good: The ending is a ‘statistical anomaly’ – unlikely, but very creepy.

Why I chose it: Received my copy from The Reading Room – thank you!

Year: 2014

Pages: 421

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Setting: America

My rating: 7 out of 10

Although I don’t read a lot of thrillers, I quite like the genre (especially if it has a psychological basis to it, I’m not one for guns/bombs/weapons). I know other people who have read and enjoyed Lisa Unger’s other thrillers, but have never tried one myself. So I was thrilled (pun intended) when The Reading Room offered me a copy of her latest, In the Blood. I loved the cover (I spent a longer than is healthy time trying to work out if the cover was trees or arteries) and the premise enticed me in combination with this gloomy, cooler weather.

The story is told predominantly by Lana, a college student in The Hollows. She’s had a very turbulent childhood (your jaw will repeatedly drop as more is revealed about her past) but has come to this quiet area to learn, heal and to help others. A psychology student, she decides to get a part time job on the advice of her lawyer, aunt and trusted lecturer, Langdon Hewes. At first Lana is eager – should she be a waitress? A bookshop assistant? (Oh, how the story would have been different if you’d picked that Lana!) But Langdon suggests she might wish to use her skills to babysit a troubled boy from a local school. Lana, ever eager to please Langdon (her friend Beck often taunts Lana about her crush on him), organises a meeting with Luke and his mum Rachel. She gets the job and then realises that Luke is not just a troubled boy. He’s a manipulative liar and Lana knows all too well about that – she used to be one herself. Still, she can’t help but get involved when Luke proposes a treasure hunt – she’ll do anything to win. But when Beck disappears, things just get stranger and stranger…Luke seems to know far too much…

In between Lana’s story are the journal entries of a young mother. We’re never told who this woman is, but at first it’s easy to pick. But later, her story seems to fit that of a number of women in the story. What is the link?

I was feeling pretty smart through the first two thirds of the book. The narrative was fast paced, the story gripping and the titbits about Lana’s past were very interesting. But then I made a connection between Lana and one of the journal entries and I thought I’d cracked the secret. It was later revealed that my guess was correct, but there was still more to come as Beck’s disappearance became a police investigation and Luke acted even more strangely. But then some of the plot threads became clichéd and overly coincidental and I didn’t feel creeped out. In fact, the story was becoming lighter and parody like for me. I enjoyed the ending, but it seemed a little forced in some places (but magnificent in relation to Lana’s final interaction with one character). I’d like to read another Lisa Unger book in future to see how to compares. (I read that several of her books are set in The Hollows, which appears to be a great place for thrillers with the creepy haunted buildings and woods surrounding the town).

I also liked the insights into child psychology and psychiatry. There’s still so much we don’t know about the human mind and this shows through Luke – is he a product of genetics? Can you be born a psychopath? Is it due to upbringing? He had so many labels attached to him at a young age, but nothing seemed to fit his persona – or turn him into a sweet little boy. The comparison with Lana is very well done – the bad girl turned good but Lana’s mentions several times the issues she’s had to reach that stage – the medication adverse effects, flat affect and continuing counselling.

If you’re happy to accept that the ending of this book will not be quite as clever as the initial set up, this will be an enjoyable book for you. I will definitely try more by Lisa Unger.


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