It’s just another morning for Oliver. He’s awakened by his phone going off, with fifteen text messages in five minutes, each one a threat against his five-year-old daughter’s life. Pictures of her dead, pictures of her tortured, disfigured; threats to her life; pictures of the outside of his house, of flowers she planted, of the two of them. Every day, picture after picture, threat after threat, message after message. Then it’s time to get out of bed and make breakfast for himself, his daughter Norah, and Ron. Ron is a friend, an ex-cop turned detective who has agreed to come live with them while they wait for the messages to end. Or for Oliver’s stalker to show himself. Whichever comes first.
With Ron now a member of their lives, Oliver has to reveal a secret he had thought to keep hidden. He and his daughter, Norah, are witches. Not simply Wiccans or believers in a pagan religion, but powerful, magic-slinging witches, and it seems like their stalker is a witch, too. But the stalker isn’t only after Norah. There have also been murders, leaving victims with their hearts ripped out. Kindly enough, the stalker has sent Oliver pictures of each murder. Oliver doesn’t know what to do or where to turn, but he knows he wants Ron in his arms.
This is the second story I’ve read by this author. The first, Snapdragon, takes place in the same world and shares some similar characters, but the two aren’t officially part of a series. While reading the first book might help acquaint you with the author’s writing style and give you more background on two characters who make an appearance here, it isn’t necessary in order to read this story.
Oliver is a static, unchanging character. He has little to no emotional reaction to anything, and his personality at the beginning — tired and apathetic at receiving another death threat to his daughter — doesn’t noticeably change by the end of the book. He reacts to the actions taken by others, and gamely trots along at Ron’s side, but there are only one or two scenes where he seems to make any discernible effort to take charge or do anything himself. Personally, I found him to be very flat and listless.
Also, Oliver’s a witch. Something that no one seems to care about. It’s mentioned once that he may have to tell Ron’s friends about his powers, but that never happens. Oliver does some magic and people seem to take it as a matter of course, so even now I’m not certain how magic works in this world, how widely accepted it is, or how well known.
Ron, as a character, just feels tired. Like Oliver, he doesn’t change much from the first page to the last, but he does change a little. As an ex-cop, he feels the weight of responsibility. If he falters, if he makes a mistake, a five-year-old girl will die. If he loses focus, Oliver might get hurt. If he isn’t good enough, fast enough, smart enough, this stalker will end up leaving another body and it will be Ron’s fault. Even so, Ron never comes across as stressed or worried. Just mildly concerned and tired.
This book starts right in the middle of the story. There is no hand-holding here, no helpful setup. It’s right to the punch line and up to the reader to catch up. But, for me, I constantly felt off balance, like I was supposed to know more than I did while, instead, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing at all. It seemed like there were clues or pieces I was missing, but when I went back to see if I could find them, they weren’t there. For example, a friend of Oliver’s goes from concerned friend to “gosh, I have an obsessive, jealous crush on you” in the course of two pages. The story feels disjointed and confusing.
The previous book, for all of its overly complicated plotting and underwhelming villains, had strong characters. This book has the same complicated plotting and underwhelming villains, but here the characters are just as unfocused. The writing isn’t awful, but there are still occasional malapropisms — notably with their, they’re, and there — and the set up and introduction of side characters felt clumsy and stilted. I’m sorry, but I’m going to suggest you pass on this book.