A woman confronts her tragic past after a move to an eerie, century-old farmhouse.
Based on actual events, this debut novel follows Debra Hamilton, an abused, neglected, foster-care runaway, who marries at a young age. Debra and her husband, Greg, purchase a dilapidated, creaky, country fixer-upper house that plays host to a large group of feral cats and a particularly ornery groundhog. Soon enough, Debra becomes increasingly spooked by strange noises within the 14-room dwelling and has some baffling moments of confusion, but her fears are buffered after befriending neighbor Julie Zourenger and her husband, Kyle. As the women become jogging buddies and their friendship blooms, Julie confesses to being trapped in a loveless marriage with a volatile, ill-tempered husband. She also discloses her horrifying discovery of an unknown stalker calling himself “Smitten,” who sends her explicit letters containing intimate personal information. Through a series of flashbacks, the narrative expands upon Debra’s messy childhood. Growing up with a paranoid schizophrenic mother, Debra constantly fears that she has inherited her parent’s terrifying, unpredictable mental condition. Meanwhile, Debra and Julie bond further after ill-advisedly deciding that they should try to lure the shadowy stalker out of hiding. Whether through messages hidden in mysterious rainstorms or the machinations of a murderous, delusional game warden, Benedict expertly ramps up the intrigue as Debra confronts the possibility that she has indeed inherited her mother’s malady and is losing her mind. Or is she? Also compelling is Debra’s increasing belief that the farmhouse possesses a ghostly presence, as Julie edges closer to uncovering the identity of her stalker and Kyle takes matters into his own hands. The author keeps all of these plot points spinning with an impressive amount of suspense, which nicely counters a few disappointingly sluggish spots and misplaced snippets of back story. The tale’s conclusion, while tidy, doesn’t skimp on excitement, and rounds out Benedict’s first crack at a novel after a series of successful short stories.
A consistently crafty mystery/thriller spiced with supernatural elements and captivating characters.