Fiction, Mystery/Thriller


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers, but not through her police training. She’s an officer in sleepy Woodbury, MA, where a bicycle theft still makes the newspapers. No one there knows she was once victim number seventeen in the grisly story of serial killer Francis Michael Coben. The only one who lived.

When three people disappear from her town in three years―all around her birthday―Ellery fears someone knows her secret. Someone very dangerous. Her superiors dismiss her concerns, but Ellery knows the vanishing season is coming and anyone could be next. She contacts the one man she knows will believe her: the FBI agent who saved her from a killer all those years ago.

Agent Reed Markham made his name and fame on the back of the Coben case, but his fortunes have since turned. His marriage is in shambles, his bosses think he’s washed up, and worst of all, he blew a major investigation. When Ellery calls him, he can’t help but wonder: sure, he rescued her, but was she ever truly saved? His greatest triumph is Ellery’s waking nightmare, and now both of them are about to be sucked into the past, back to the case that made them…with a killer who can’t let go. 

My Take:

I read this book because it won the coveted FIRST CRIME NOVEL AWARD presented by Minotaur Publishing and the MWA (Mystery Writers of America). You can see a video of her discussing the book and her award here. For those of you who don’t know, I am an agented mystery author, and I entered this same contest back in December. Fortunately Joanna Schaffhausen is not my competition. Unfortunately, roughly 400 people a year enter this contest, so wish me luck!

This is ‘hands down’ one of the best serial killer stories I’ve ever read. Seriously, it’s immediately obvious within the first few pages why this book won the First Crime Novel Award.

The characters, especially Ellery, are super well developed, and you can tell that the author had some understanding of the psychology of trauma when she wrote this. Everything was well-researched, and based on my own knowledge of true crime, the process used to solve the case was exactly what would be used in real life.

Most importantly, I did not guess the killer this time!


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