If you’ve ever waited 35 minutes for pizza delivery only to find most of the cheese and toppings stuck to the cardboard box, you know exactly how I felt while reading Lisa Unger’s In the Blood (Touchstone, $26).
The new psychological thriller from the best-selling author of Beautiful Lies (2006) and Heartbroken (2012) sports gushing praise from big-name writers Dennis Lehane (“an absolute corker of a thriller”); Linda Fairstein (“dark and haunting, with a deadly twist you won’t see coming ’til you’re hit between the eyes”); and Karin Slaughter (“a shocking, unputdownable thriller”). All that enthusiasm raised my expectations to such a degree, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
It’s not that In the Blood is poorly plotted or badly written—it’s perfectly serviceable—but all those raves suggested I would need to sleep with the light on for a week. Maybe I’m dead inside, but I didn’t find anything about In the Blood particularly frightening or shocking. Not one goosebump to report, not a single cold sweat.
Lana Granger is a college student working toward a degree in psychology. Her mentor, Professor Langdon Hewes, steers her to a babysitting job with Luke, a troubled 11-year-old who is clearly capable of great evil. Luke’s mother warns Lana not to underestimate him, but Lana and Luke are quickly engaged in an intellectual chess match. Abnormal psychology is an important topic to Lana, with good reason: Her father is in jail, awaiting execution for killing Lana’s mother.
But wait—there’s more! Lana’s roommate disappears after a very public argument in the college library. It’s only a matter of time before the police are questioning Lana, who was also present when another student died under mysterious circumstances a few years earlier.
Unger establishes Lana as a somewhat confused and totally unreliable narrator who feels comfortable withholding the truth or simply lying outright. Unger tries to complicate the plot with diary entries from a mystery woman detailing her problems raising a difficult child, but it did little to add to the suspense. There is a significant plot twist that I won’t give away, but careful readers will see it coming before it’s revealed.
I tried very hard to connect with In the Blood, but it never happened. I wanted to read the same book that so impressed Lehane, Fairstein and Slaughter, but In the Blood never got under my skin. It’s a quick, easy read that didn’t live up to expectations, so I guess that makes In the Blood a real “Unger”-achiever. ★★✩✩✩
[ I Want That Book! ]
What’s on our reviewer’s radar …
Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad and emigrated to New York when he was a child. His 2002 debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, was widely acclaimed, and his subsequent efforts—Absurdistan (2006) and Super Sad True Love Story (2010)—cemented his reputation as a literary superstar. Now Shteyngart has written a memoir, Little Failure (Random House, $27) that is every bit as funny, revealing and poignant as his award-winning fiction. Shteyngart writes honestly—and with great humor—about growing up as an immigrant, college life, struggles with alcohol and a receding hairline. It’s my first must-have of 2014.