Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Recent Widow Finds Herself in Peril in This Psychological Thriller from Lisa Unger

Poppy Lang and her husband, Jack, were successful photographers who traveled the world before settling in New York and opening an agency. On the surface, they appear to be living a charmed life, although as is often the case, especially in a psychological thriller like this, there may be problems lurking just below the surface. But when Jack is killed, apparently at random while out for an early morning jog, Poppy descends into a year-long depression and her life begins to come apart at the seams.

Shortly after the funeral, Poppy disappears, leaving her mother, her best friend, and everyone else who cares about her worried sick. She surfaces a few days later, wearing a red party dress, with no memory of where she has been or what she has done. Even with the help of caring friends and a therapist, she's having trouble putting her life back together and a year after her husband's death, she still appears to be on a downward spiral.

Part of the problem is that, in addition to the small dose of sleeping pills that the therapist has prescribed, Poppy is self-medicating with pills given to her by her best friend, Layla. She's also drinking heavily and thus, not surprisingly, her sleep is disturbed by powerful and troubling dreams. Even worse, she seems to be dreaming and perhaps imagining things while she's allegedly awake. She becomes convinced that a mysterious hooded man is following her. She begins to "see" Jack, and before long, she no longer knows what's real and what is not.

Neither do we. Poppy is a classic unreliable narrator, and as the story progresses the reader sometimes has a hard time distinguishing between Poppy's dreams and reality, just as she does. One would hope, as Poppy does, that if the police could only clear the case and find Jack's killer, this would provide some closure. The only question is whether or not Poppy will survive and remain sane until this can happen.

On the whole I enjoyed this book, although I thought it ran on a bit and was perhaps fifty to a hundred pages longer than it needed to be. For much of the book, Poppy seemed to be going around in circles and, as a reader, I thought there might have been one or two many trips around the same track. I also really disliked Layla, Poppy's best friend since they were children. She was way too domineering and I kept waiting for Poppy to finally tell her to back off a bit. I also wonder what kind of a "friend" keeps pushing pills and alcohol on a woman in such a fragile state.

By the time the climax finally arrived, I was pretty sure I knew where it was going; still the pace picked up significantly in last one-third of the book or so and in the end, I enjoyed it. 3.5 stars rounded up to four.

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