In this thriller, a tell-all about a celebrity novelist examines her most famous horror book, which may be more truth than fiction.
People often recognize 20-something Meg, simply for being the daughter of renowned author Frances Ashley. The writer’s bibliography is extensive, but her 40-year-old debut, 1976’s Kitten, is her most revered tale. The story of a shocking island murder has reached cult status, and rabid fans known as Kitty Cultists litter the internet with fan fiction and conspiracy theories. One hypothesis, that Frances based her novel and characters on a real-life killing, is the reason the author’s new assistant, Asa Bloch, asks Meg to write a memoir. Though Asa genuinely wants proof that Kitten is thinly veiled nonfiction, Meg eventually agrees, seeing it as a chance to disclose her volatile relationship with a cold, neglectful mother. She heads to the tale’s setting, Ambletern Hotel, on an island off the Georgia coast. Dorothy Kitchens has since closed the hotel she inherited, having suffered harassment from fans who believe she’s the living counterpart of a murderous Kitten character. But what Meg finds on the island is a bevy of lies—and a killer who doesn’t want the truth uncovered. Carpenter’s (Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, 2016) convoluted but rousing plot piles on an array of storylines. There are soapy bits (a hush-hush lawsuit and Meg eying groundskeeper Koa and his abs); heaps of mystery (cryptic notes in a fan-notated copy of Kitten that Frances inexplicably has at her apartment); and too many suspicious characters to count. Carpenter deepens the intrigue by filling her pages with haunting, sometimes ominous passages: “The worst thing my mother ever did, her gravest sin, wasn’t something I intended to share with anyone.” Meg’s a novice investigator, giving her first-person narrative credence; she’s just as surprised—reading her mom’s book for the first time—as readers will likely be, and her ideas generally come from TV shows like Law & Order. Carpenter amps the tension by paralleling Meg’s story with Kitten (snippets prefacing each chapter)—with both building toward revealing climaxes—and ties off the subplots with clarity and thoroughness.
Twists aplenty in this searing murder mystery should leave readers dizzy, in the best way possible.