“Keep You Close”

“Keep You Close” by Karen Cleveland sets a dark tone in the prologue that ends with a chilling question. “What if he’s not who she thinks he is?”

Stephanie Maddox is chief of Internal Investigations at headquarters, and the tale unfolds in her first person narrative. The present tense structure creates a sense of immediacy and personal connection. Maddox talks to readers, and she talks to herself. She shares her struggles, “It shouldn’t be this difficult,” and explains her coping mechanisms, “It’s what I do when life seems out of control, try to make my house perfect.” She interprets the actions of others, “He told me so and I ‘believe him,” and she rationalizes what she does not understand, “Zachary made a mistake, sure. Fell in with the wrong crowd.” Readers get to know her well, and understand that she has a problem, a big problem.

Readers follow as she plans, “Okay. I need to think about this rationally.” She shares startling revelations with readers, and she is incredulous at what she finds, “He knew. He knew about Zachary all along.” She second-guesses her thinking and investigative process, “Now I don’t know what to think.” Readers have the same questions as Maddox “Who’s doing this to us?” and feel her tension and concern, on every page. Day to day activities are interspersed with flashbacks that raise questions and reveal secrets, important secrets that have big consequences.

There are other voices, third person narratives. There is a woman, watching, waiting, and wondering about another woman. “What are they doing to her? And what are they doing to her son?” There is a young man, and there is an older man. Then, the man has a name, and the man with a name has connections.

Cleveland’s descriptions elucidate the beauty of Washington, DC. “The cherry tree outside my brownstone is starting to bud, dozens of pink knobs closed tight like tiny fists. In a few weeks, it’ll be in full bloom, and the city will be bursting with pink blossoms. Hordes of tourists, too; they’ll clog the usually quiet sidewalks around the Tidal Basin.”

Cleveland contrasts that with stark atmosphere of Maddox’s workspace “It’s a large office. There’s a desk in the center, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases on one wall, filled with legal tomes. A row of lockable filing cabinets along another, which doubles as a table for my coffeemaker. A television mounted to the opposite wall. A wide window in front of me overlooks the cubicle bullpen where my agents work.”

“Keep You Close” is filled with unexpected twists and turns. Readers agree when Maddox admits that things are not always what they seem to be “I thought I had it all figured out. Now I’m completely confused.” I received a review copy of “Keep You Close” from Karen Cleveland, Random House, Balentine Books, and NetGalley. It throws readers right into the fray with the characters. The action never lets up until the startling end.