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.