Book Review(s): Behind Her Eyes, The Dry & The Trapped Girl

Mysteries in general work by cleverly withholding crucial information. Which is why Sarah Pinborough's Behind Her Eyes, Jane Harper's The Dry and Robert Dugoni's The Trapped Girl all excel in their own way, deftly misleading the readers in a different direction when the obvious is there for all to see. The Gone Girl (or The Girl on the Train) kind of mining domestic discord for thrills is perhaps too overused a literary trope by now, yet Behind Her Eyes subverts that very genre with a series of paranormal twists that borders on the ridiculous and yet works quite well in the context of the story. As I finished reading the novel, it seemed as though Pinborough had the climax worked out beforehand and then filled the storyline backwards. It was a tad calculated and forced in that sense, but it would be an understatement if I said I got thrown off by the denouement.

Jane Harper's The Dry, on the other hand, aims for a more topical touch. Set in the drought-ravaged town of Kiewarra in Australia, the novel opens with the death of Luke Hadler, who appears to have shot dead his wife and their child, before turning the gun on himself. Is the life-threatening drought to blame? Were they in some sort of financial trouble? No one seems to know, until his once close friend Aaron Falk, a financial investigator by profession, begins to reluctantly look into the murders. Having fled the town some 20 years ago and carrying a secret past himself, it's not a job he would like to take on, yet he does, partly because he wants to grant Luke's parents the closure they deserve and also because he wants to get to the heart of the mystery. Harper's writing is evocative, and one can almost visualise the searing drought in between the lines ("It wasn't as though the farm hadn't seen death before, and the blowflies didn't discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse," she writes in the opening chapter), even as the character-driven whodunit hurtles towards a satisfactory finish. An assured debut on the whole!

I read Robert Dugoni's Damage Control years back and wasn't impressed too much by it. But colour me surprised. His latest novel The Trapped Girl, fourth in the Tracy Crosswhite series, is too compelling a murder mystery to give it a miss. There is that unmistakable Gone Girl vibe rearing its presence (I don't know if it was intentional on part of the author, but one of the main characters is shown to have read both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train!) while smartly staged twists keep showing up, leaving the Seattle Police Department scrambling to untangle the mystery after a body is discovered submerged inside a crab pot. Dugoni does a great job juggling the multiple plotlines and gives us strong characters to root for. Engrossing and laced with a fast-paced narrative, The Trapped Girl is a story that will have you hooked. Eagerly looking forward to the next in the series!

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