"A leisurely paced but ultimately rewarding, riveting thriller."– Kirkus Reviews
A sea voyage from the U.S. to Italy churns up whirlwind romance and a strong possibility of murder in Wickard’s (A Perfect Setup, 2013, etc.) latest thriller.
Sami Saxton is ready to enjoy an extended cruise with her pal Drew Shaffer. Things are off to a good start when Sami meets Giovanni Gulati, a handsome Italian who has more than a passing interest in her. But their burgeoning and exciting relationship is threatened when Sami sees a ski-masked man watching her, leading her to believe that she’s being followed by a stalker she thought she’d left behind in New York. It only gets more harrowing from there: police board the ship to investigate a missing passenger, and Sami receives a note slid under her door from “a secret admirer”—a list of crossed-out names; she’s next. Someone on the cruise may be an unsavory character from Sami’s past with sinister intentions. The suspense in Douglas’ thriller comes at a slow crawl, but effectively so. The menace onboard is introduced early with a quick perspective from an unknown person secretly keeping an eye on Sami. But much of the story is devoted to Sami’s time with Giovanni. Their romance is never tacky or excessively melodramatic; it’s a believable relationship with a suitor who alternates between amorous gestures and, on one of their dates, standing Sami up. Author Wickard will have readers on edge before the weirdo in a ski mask even makes an appearance: married Drew reignites a dangerous affair with a shrink, and Sami notices seemingly unfounded animosity from Mr. Delphino, Giovanni’s caretaker. The story doesn’t present itself as a whodunit, so while the identity of the masked man isn’t too surprising, it doesn’t diminish him as a genuine threat to Sami and Drew. Overall, Wickard efficiently delivers a narrative that’s like a methodical, white-knuckle grip of the throat, the tension gradually getting tighter.
A leisurely paced but ultimately rewarding, riveting thriller.
In Wickard’s debut thriller, a recently divorced woman flees the city for the country on a course destined to cross a serial killer.
Samantha, better known as Sami, leaves her unfaithful husband and her old life behind to take refuge at an old family home with her loyal Weimaraner, Blue. Unfortunately, since the cabin had been vacant for years, unhinged Smitty had assumed it was abandoned and was using it for dead body storage—young women who become his “wives” only after he’s killed them. In the ownership dispute, Smitty devises a way to make the cabin his again, whether or not Sami is willing to leave. Wickard’s novel colorfully illuminates the two synchronized protagonists, each displaying profound characteristics: Sami has trouble adjusting to her new life and Smitty balances his secret life with his normal one, with a (living) wife and infant daughter at home. Most of the violence is inferred, but tension is sustained by looming hostility. There are signs of violence at the cabin (a hacked beaver tail, for example) and Sami awakens more than once in her hotel room with Blue growling at the front door. Blue is such a well-defined character that he’s more friend than canine, to the point where Sami’s human friend Drew pales in comparison. Smitty’s surveillance of Sami helps establish him as a menacing presence, but the story achieves greater momentum when Smitty faces a conflict in the form of a teenage girl whose obsession with him is more aggressive than he could have imagined. Smitty refers to his smile as his “greatest weapon,” and that’s ultimately what makes him so terrifying. His starting point for murder is not a brutal act, but a genial expression.
Assertive characters with distinct backgrounds provide a solid foundation for the story of a killer on the hunt.