The Stranger Inside by Lisa Unger
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Published: 03 October 2019 (HQ)
Bad people win. They win all the time.
Rain Winter was outraged by the not-guilty verdict that allowed Steve Markham to get away with killing his wife and their unborn child. Her investigation of the murder had left her with no doubts about his guilt, the injustice of his freedom and the inevitable media circus that gifted him the celebrity spotlight leaving her feeling sickened and powerless. Taking time out from journalism to care for her husband and baby seemed like a welcome and necessary step, a break from all the madness. But now Markham’s dead. Butchered by the same method he used to get rid of his family. And word is that it’s not the only time this vigilante has acted. That the first was actually Eugene Kreskey, the man who tried to abduct her as a child. The man who killed one of her friends and tortured the other.
If there’s a link, a story, she needs to find it. All of a sudden, she’s right back in, bringing to light all kinds of secrets that should have stayed buried. Especially her own.
Some people are better off dead
This is a surprisingly multifaceted narrative for something that seems at first to be a straight up psychological thriller. Not only are there numerous strands to the story, the book also incorporates an examination of issues such as; the conflict between motherhood, career, and personal identity; the devastating effects of being a victim of violence and the impact of childhood trauma on children and adults; and especially the complexity and morality of justice, including who has the right to determine what it looks like. It gives the novel an interesting bent, making it as much about these big questions as the ‘solving’ of the mystery. Both things are linked, of course, with the different ways people react to trauma underlying the entire story.
For the most part, the extra depth is a positive, with Lisa Unger effectively portraying the complexity of the human psyche with characters who are contradictory and real. Some ‘surprises’ were hardly that, but it was no detriment to the story. If anything, understanding why people chose to act the way they did was the most compelling part, though I didn’t need the gradual build up to being in a mental place where murder feels like justice. This guy had it coming. Nevertheless, the way the book deals with vigilantism and justice certainly makes you consider your own ethical framework.
This is truly a what-would-I-do kinda book.
On the other hand, there’s a serious amount of repetition within each point of view and the voice of the vigilante, whose name we discover relatively early, tends towards the comically exaggerated at times, especially at the beginning. Having two characters construct the events of the past according to their own involvement is powerful, to such an extent that the book could have, and perhaps should have, focused on that one event alone. The sections dealing with the other murders feel like filler, minus the emotional kick this central experience holds for the two people telling us the story.
It’s a fresh take on the genre, but moving away from her usual punchiness means it’s not Lisa Unger’s best work. Saying that, it’s one that’ll stay on your mind for days afterwards… and well worth a try.