“The Stranger Inside” by Lisa Unger is a study of two people, what they endured, how they coped, how they grew, and they maneuvered through life. They are the victims of past trauma, and how they want their lives back. They want to be the people they would have become if none of this had happened, but they are who they are now because of what happened then.
It opens with a first person present-tense account. The narrator talks directly to someone, “I know what you’re thinking” having a conversation, drawing the person into the plot from the start. “I’m sure you know all this. If I know you, you’re keeping tabs, too.” Is this a conversation with the reader or someone else? The narrator waits “because I have nothing but time.” Readers wonder about the narrator, but by the time the identity and the intent become clear, frighteningly clear, readers are hooked.
The scene changes in different chapters. Readers are introduced to Rain Winter, a former producer for National News, her husband Greg, news producer for the local television news, and their baby, Lil. A man is found murdered. The man had been acquitted in the death of his wife, and Winter had covered the trial. No one else was ever charged with Laney Markham’s murder and the murder of her unborn child. In Winter’s opinion, the bad person got away with murder, until he had not. Now he is dead. Not only is he dead, but he died the way Laney Markham died, bound, gagged and stabbed with a serrated hunting knife. For Winter, Markham’s death is not the abrupt end of the story but the beginning of another one.
Unger did not create a story about ordinary people; these characters are dark, complex, multi-faceted, and intertwined in unexpected ways. Winter has a complex history and a tragic past; one ugly event shaped her life and changed how interacts with everyone and everything around her. That tragedy spreads, contaminating everyone around her in unexpected ways. The other players have difficult journeys and complicated evolutions as well. Their paths are diverse with other secrets to discover, other ordeals to overcome. The tendrils of present events also reach back into the past, uncovering long unspoken questions that demand answers. The search for those answers is complicated and difficult.
“The Stranger Inside” is a book where past nightmares emerge into the present. The mystery is not the murder or even who committed it, the real story is how the past molds current events. I received a review copy of “The Stranger Inside” from Lisa Unger, Harlequin, and Park Row Books. It presents a fractured world that reflects a different existence. It is compelling, shocking, and difficult to put down.