A storm-struck island. A blood-soaked bed. A missing man. Senior Investigator Shana Merchant believes it all adds up to a killer in their midst—and that murder is a family affair.
Thirteen months ago, former NYPD detective Shana Merchant barely survived being abducted by a serial killer. Now hoping to leave grisly murder cases behind, she’s taken a job in her fiancé’s sleepy hometown in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York.
But as a nor’easter bears down on her new territory, Shana and fellow investigator Tim Wellington receive a call about a man missing on a private island. Shana and Tim travel to the isolated island owned by the wealthy Sinclair family to question the witnesses. They arrive to find blood on the scene and a house full of Sinclair family and friends on edge.
While Tim guesses they’re dealing with a runaway case, Shana is convinced that they have a murder on their hands. As the gale intensifies outside, she starts conducting interviews and discovers the Sinclairs and their guests are crawling with dark and dangerous secrets.
Trapped on the island by the raging storm with only Tim whose reliability is thrown into question, the increasingly restless suspects, and her own trauma-fueled flashbacks for company, Shana will have to trust the one person her abduction destroyed her faith in—herself. But time is ticking down, because if Shana’s right, a killer is in their midst and as the pressure mounts, so do the odds that they’ll strike again.
“The beginning. Where was that exactly? Nowhere I wanted to take a stranger, even if he did smell nice. But maybe I could go back partway, just far enough to make him happy. Back to a limestone building on East Fifth Street, and a day that grabbed me by the throat and still hasn’t let go.”
Hear ye, hear ye, all my mystery loving friends of the Agatha Christie variety: this one’s for you. I know that the subtle, slow paced mystery has taken a backseat to the flashy psychological thriller over the past decade, but I am here to tell you that quality writing never goes out of style, and quality writing is precisely what I found in Tessa Wegert’s Death in the Family. It’s not in your face by promising “a twist that you most definitely will not see coming”, and while our protagonist is flawed and working through some issues, she is not plagued by the rampant wave of alcoholic blackouts and wimpy stamina that brings about a whiny heroine. I’ve been begging for a strong female lead to become the norm in crime thrillers again, and this is a great start in what I’m sure will become a new favorite series of mine.
In Death in the Family, we are blessed with not one, but two cases of criminal behavior to work through. Right in the prologue, and also in the synopsis of the book, we are informed that Shana Merchant was abducted by a serial killer 13 months ago and somehow survived. This will likely be the continuing thread for the series, at least for a little while, and we do get bits and pieces of how she was abducted and her time spent with the killer; however, this one does leave a few questions unanswered. I felt this type of mini-cliffhanger was extremely well done, and not a put off but a way of enticing me to read the next book in the series. The second case, the present day crime, is a missing person who appears to be in grave danger, due to the amount of blood left in his bed. Shana and her partner, Tim, barely make it to the island, and realize that they will have to work the case alone due to the terrible storm surging around this island of wealth and privilege.
What I loved most about this book is the updated twist on the classic locked room mystery. It’s by far my favorite crime fiction trope, partly due to the marriage of slow building suspense and established character development that it requires to be well done. While psychological thrillers tend to try and pull a trick from thin air in the hopes to shock you beyond your wildest dreams, this traditional tale takes the cast that is trapped on the island and convinces the reader that each character is as guilty, and as likely to be a culprit, as the next. I truly had no idea how this book would wrap up until the final reveal, and because the author did such a good job distributing equal amounts of shady behavior and transgressions amongst the cast, I didn’t feel disappointed that there was no outrageous explantation that I hadn’t thought of. This brilliant form of slow growing suspense allowed me to fully settle in to solve this case alongside Shana without my interest waning in the least.
Obviously Det. Merchant has some issues, what with being kidnapped by a serial killer and being held captive for roughly a week. I can’t go into too many details surrounding this portion of the book, because spoilers, but suffice it to say that the growth arc that Shana develops over the length of the book is phenomenal. She makes a decision nearing the finale of the book involving her personal life that I applaud the author for choosing to write about; so few authors tend to portray a female successfully escaping an unhealthy relationship, and we need more of this! Themes like that, paired with a strong female friendship and developing trust with people after a traumatic event are also explored here, which makes my heart incredibly happy. Obviously there’s a little nugget of WTF at the tail end of the story; otherwise, how would you be hooked to read the next book? Overall, I’m delighted that I picked up this book, and the sequel is automatically on my most anticipated list for whenever it gets published.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tessa Wegert is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist. She grew up in Quebec near the border of Vermont and now lives with her family in Connecticut. Tessa writes mysteries set in Upstate New York while studying martial arts and dance.