The Marsh King's Daughter

The Marsh King's Daughter

by Karen Dionne

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Overview

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER
 
“Brilliant....About as good as a thriller can be.”—The New York Times Book Review

“[A] nail-biter perfect for Room fans.”—Cosmopolitan

“Sensationally good psychological suspense.”—Lee Child
 
Praised by Karin Slaughter and Megan Abbott, The Marsh King’s Daughter is the mesmerizing tale of a woman who must risk everything to hunt down the dangerous man who shaped her past and threatens to steal her future: her father.
 
Helena Pelletier has a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a business that fills her days. But she also has a secret: she is the product of an abduction. Her mother was kidnapped as a teenager by her father and kept in a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Helena, born two years after the abduction, loved her home in nature, and despite her father’s sometimes brutal behavior, she loved him, too...until she learned precisely how savage he could be.

More than twenty years later, she has buried her past so soundly that even her husband doesn’t know the truth. But now her father has killed two guards, escaped from prison, and disappeared into the marsh. The police begin a manhunt, but Helena knows they don’t stand a chance. Knows that only one person has the skills to find the survivalist the world calls the Marsh King—because only one person was ever trained by him: his daughter.

A Michigan Notable Book!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735213029
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/13/2017
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 4,149
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Karen Dionne is the cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, the organizer of the Salt Cay Writers Retreat, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, where she served on the board of directors. She has been honored by the Michigan Humanities Council as a Humanities Scholar, and lives with her husband in Detroit's northern suburbs.

Read an Excerpt

1

Wait here,” I tell my three-year-old. I lean through the truck’s open window to fish between her booster seat and the passenger door for the plastic sippy cup of lukewarm orange juice she threw in a fit of frustration. “Mommy will be right back.”

Mari reaches for the cup like Pavlov’s puppy. Her bottom lip pokes out and tears overflow. I get it. She’s tired. So am I.

“Uh-uh-uh,” Mari grunts as I start to walk away. She arches her back and pushes against the seat belt as if it’s a straitjacket.

“Stay put, I’ll be right back.” I narrow my eyes and shake my finger so she knows I mean business and go around to the back of the truck. I wave at the kid stacking boxes on the loading dock by the delivery entrance to Markham’s—Jason, I think is his name—then lower the tailgate to grab the first two boxes of my own.

“Hi, Mrs. Pelletier!” Jason returns my wave with twice the enthusiasm I gave him. I lift my hand again so we’re even. I’ve given up telling him to call me Helena.

Bang-bang-bang from inside the truck. Mari is whacking her juice cup against the window ledge. I’m guessing it’s empty. I bang the flat of my hand against the truck bed in response—bang-bang-bang—and Mari startles and twists around, her baby-fine hair whipping across her face like corn silk. I give her my best “cut it out if you know what’s good for you” scowl, then heft the cartons to my shoulder. Stephen and I both have brown hair and eyes, as does our five-year-old, Iris, so he marveled over this rare golden child we created until I told him my mother was a blonde. That’s all he knows.

Markham’s is the next-to-last delivery of four, and the primary sales outlet for my jams and jellies, aside from the orders I pick up online. Tourists who shop at Markham’s Grocery like the idea that my products are locally made. I’m told a lot of customers purchase several jars to take home as gifts and souvenirs. I tie gingham fabric circles over the lids with butcher’s string and color-code them according to contents: red for raspberry jam, purple for elderberry, blue for blueberry, green for cattail-blueberry jelly, ­yellow for dandelion, pink for wild apple–chokecherry—you get the idea. I think the covers look silly, but people seem to like them. And if I’m going to get by in an area as economically depressed as the Upper Peninsula, I have to give people what they want. It’s not rocket science.

There are a lot of wild foods I could use and a lot of different ways to fix them, but for now I’m sticking with jams and jellies. Every business needs a focus. My trademark is the cattail line drawing I put on every label. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who mixes ground cattail root with blueberries to make jelly. I don’t add much, just enough to justify including cattail in the name. When I was growing up, young cattail spikes were my favorite vegetable. They still are. Every spring I toss my waders and a wicker basket in the back of my pickup and head for the marshes south of our place. Stephen and the girls won’t touch them, but Stephen doesn’t care if I cook them as long as I fix just enough for me. Boil the heads for a few minutes in salted water and you have one of the finest vegetables around. The texture is a little dry and mealy, so I eat mine with butter now, but of course, butter was nothing I’d tasted when I was a child.

Blueberries I pick in the logged-over areas south of our place. Some years the blueberry crop is better than others. Blueberries like a lot of sun. Indians used to set fire to the underbrush to improve the yield. I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted. I’m not the only person out on the plains during blueberry season, so the areas closest to the old logging roads get picked over fairly quickly. But I don’t mind going off the beaten path, and I never get lost. Once I was so far out in the middle of nowhere, a Department of Natural Resources helicopter spotted me and hailed me. After I convinced the officers I knew where I was and what I was doing, they left me alone.

“Hot enough for you?” Jason asks as he reaches down and takes the first box from my shoulder.

I grunt in response. There was a time when I would have had no idea how to answer such a question. My opinion of the weather isn’t going to change it, so why should anyone care what I think? Now I know I don’t have to, that this is an example of what Stephen calls “small talk,” conversation for the sake of conversation, a space-filler not meant to communicate anything of importance or value. Which is how people who don’t know each other well talk to each other. I’m still not sure how this is better than silence.

Jason laughs like I told the best joke he’s heard all day, which Stephen also insists is an appropriate response, never mind that I didn’t say anything funny. After I left the marsh, I really struggled with social conventions. Shake hands when you meet someone. Don’t pick your nose. Go to the back of the line. Wait your turn. Raise your hand when you have a question in the classroom and then wait for the teacher to call on you before you ask it. Don’t burp or pass gas in the presence of others. When you’re a guest in someone’s home, ask permission before you use the bathroom. Remember to wash your hands and flush the toilet after you do. I can’t tell you how often I felt as though everyone knew the right way to do things but me. Who makes these rules, anyway? And why do I have to follow them? And what will be the consequences if I don’t?

I leave the second box on the loading dock and go back to the truck for the third. Three cases, twenty-four jars each, seventy-two jars total, delivered every two weeks during June, July, and August. My profit on each case is $59.88, which means that over the course of the summer, I make more than a thousand dollars from Markham’s alone. Not shabby at all.

And about my leaving Mari alone in the truck while I make my deliveries, I know what people would think if they knew. Especially about leaving her alone with the windows down. But I’m not about to leave the windows up. I’m parked under a pine and there’s a breeze blowing off the bay, but the temperature has been pushing upper eighties all day, and I know how quickly a closed car can turn into an oven.

I also realize that someone could easily reach through the open window and grab Mari if they wanted to. But I made a decision years ago that I’m not going to raise my daughters to fear that what happened to my mother might also happen to them.

One last word on this subject, and then I’m done. I guarantee if anyone has a problem with how I’m raising my daughters, then they’ve never lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That’s all.

Back at the truck, Mari the Escape Artist is nowhere to be seen. I go up to the passenger window and look inside. Mari is sitting on the floor chewing a cellophane candy wrapper she found under the seat as if it’s a piece of gum. I open the door, fish the wrapper out of her mouth and shove it in my pocket, then dry my fingers on my jeans and buckle her in. A butterfly flutters through the window and lands on a spot of sticky something on the dash. Mari claps her hands and laughs. I grin. It’s impossible not to. Mari’s laugh is delicious, a full-throated, unself-­conscious chortle I never get tired of hearing. Like those YouTube videos people post of babies laughing uncontrollably over inconsequential things like a jumping dog or a person tearing strips of paper—Mari’s laugh is like that. Mari is sparkling water, golden sunshine, the chatter of wood ducks overhead.

I shoo the butterfly out and put the truck in gear. Iris’s bus drops her off at our house at four forty-five. Stephen usually watches the girls while I make my deliveries, but he won’t be back until late tonight because he’s showing a new set of lighthouse prints to the gallery owner who sells his photographs in the Soo. Sault Ste. Marie, which is pronounced “Soo” and not “Salt,” as people who don’t know better often say, is the second-largest city in the Upper Peninsula. But that isn’t saying much. The sister city on the Canadian side is a lot bigger. Locals on both sides of the St. Mary’s River call their city “The Soo.” People come from all over the world to visit the Soo Locks to watch the giant iron-ore carriers pass through. They’re a big tourist draw.

I deliver the last case of assorted jams to the Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum gift shop, then drive to the lake and park. As soon as Mari sees the water, she starts flapping her arms. “Wa-wa, wa-wa.” I know that at her age she should be speaking in complete sentences. We’ve been taking her to a developmental specialist in Marquette once a month for the past year, but so far this is the best she’s got.

We spend the next hour on the beach. Mari sits beside me on the warm beach gravel, working off the discomfort of an erupting molar by chewing on a piece of driftwood I rinsed off for her in the water. The air is hot and still, the lake calm, the waves sloshing gently like water in a bathtub. After a while, we take off our sandals and wade into the water and splash each other to cool off. Lake Superior is the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes, so the water never gets warm. But on a day like today, who’d want it to?

I lean back on my elbows. The rocks are warm. As hot as it is today, it’s hard to believe that when Stephen and I brought Iris and Mari to this same spot a couple of weeks ago to watch the Perseid meteor shower we needed sleeping bags and jackets. Stephen thought it was overkill when I packed them into the back of the Cherokee, but of course he had no idea how cold the beach gets after the sun goes down. The four of us squeezed inside a double sleeping bag and lay on our backs on the sand looking up. Iris counted twenty-three shooting stars and made a wish on every one, though Mari snoozed through most of the show. We’re going to come out again in a couple of weeks to check out the northern lights.

I sit up and check my watch. It’s still difficult for me to be somewhere at an exact time. When a person is raised on the land as I was, the land dictates what you do and when. We never kept a clock. There was no reason to. We were as attuned to our environment as the birds, insects, and animals, driven by the same circadian rhythms. My memories are tied to the seasons. I can’t always remember how old I was when a particular event took place, but I know what time of year it happened.

I know now that for most people, the calendar year begins on January 1. But in the marsh there was nothing about January to distinguish it from December or February or March. Our year began in the spring, on the first day the marsh marigolds bloomed. Marsh marigolds are huge bushy plants two feet or more in diameter, each covered with hundreds of inch-wide bright yellow blossoms. Other flowers bloom in the spring, like the blue flag iris and the flowering heads of the grasses, but marsh marigolds are so prolific that nothing compares to that astonishing yellow carpet. Every year my father would pull on his waders and go out into the marsh and dig one up. He’d put it in an old galvanized tub half-filled with water and set it on our back porch, where it glowed like he’d brought us the sun.

I used to wish my name was Marigold. But I’m stuck with Helena, which I often have to explain is pronounced “Hel-LAY-nuh.” Like a lot of things, it was my father’s choice.

The sky takes on a late afternoon quality that warns it’s time to go. I check the time and see to my horror that my internal clock has not kept pace with my watch. I scoop up Mari and grab our sandals and run back to the truck. Mari squalls as I buckle her in. I’m not unsympathetic. I would have liked to stay longer, too. I hurry around to the driver’s side and turn the key. The dashboard clock reads 4:37. I might make it. Just.

I peel out of the parking lot and drive south on M-77 as fast as I dare. There aren’t a lot of police cars in the area, but for the officers who patrol this route, aside from ticketing speeders, there isn’t much to do. I can appreciate the irony of my situation. I’m speeding because I’m late. Getting stopped for speeding will make me later still.

Mari works herself into a full-on tantrum as I drive. She kicks her feet, sand flies all over the truck, the sippy cup bounces off the windshield, and snot runs out her nose. Miss Marigold Pelletier is most definitely not a happy camper. At the moment, neither am I.

I tune the radio to the public broadcasting station out of Northern Michigan University in Marquette, hoping for music to distract her—or drown her out. I’m not a fan of classical, but this is the only station that comes in clearly.

Instead, I pick up a news alert: “—escaped prisoner . . . child abductor . . . Marquette . . .”

“Be quiet,” I yell, and turn the volume up.

“Seney National Wildlife Refuge . . . armed and dangerous . . . do not approach.” At first, that’s all I manage to catch.

I need to hear this. The refuge is less than thirty miles from our house. “Mari, stop!”

Mari blinks into silence. The report repeats:

“Once again, state police report that a prisoner serving life without parole for child abduction, rape, and murder has escaped from the maximum security prison in Marquette, Michigan. The prisoner is believed to have killed two guards during a prison transfer and escaped into the Seney National Wildlife Refuge south of M-28. Listeners should consider the prisoner armed and dangerous. Do NOT, repeat, DO NOT approach. If you see anything suspicious, call law enforcement immediately. The prisoner, Jacob Holbrook, was convicted of kidnapping a young girl and keeping her captive for a dozen years in a notorious case that received nationwide attention . . .”

My heart stops. I can’t see. Can’t breathe. Can’t hear anything over the blood rushing in my ears. I slow the truck and pull carefully onto the shoulder. My hand shakes as I reach to turn the radio off.

Jacob Holbrook has escaped from prison. The Marsh King. My father.

And I’m the one who put him in prison in the first place.

What People are Saying About This

#1 New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants and At the Water's Edge - Sarah Gruen

The Marsh King's Daughter is a masterpiece of crisp prose and fine storytelling. Sinister and complex, this book's twists and turns lead to a final confrontation so intense it will leave your heart pounding. The Marsh King's Daughter is bound to become a classic. Read it.

Reading Group Guide

1. Why hasn’t Helena told Stephen about her past? Is she wrong to have kept it from him? Has she endangered her family by keeping it a secret?
2. Is Helena a good wife?
3. Why do you think the author sets Helena’s story alongside the fable of The Marsh King’s Daughter? In what ways are these two stories similar? How does the fable shape your understanding of Helena’s character?
4. Does Jacob love Helena? Does he deserve her love? If The Hunter's appearance hadn't revealed Jacob's dark side, would Helena ever have broken with her father?
5. In the end, Helena thinks, “I am no longer my father’s shadow” (p. 302). What does she mean by this? How has her idea of her father changed?
6. Was Helena’s mother wrong for not saving her? Does Helena do enough to help her mother? How does Helena’s relationship with her mother change over time? Is Helena a good daughter?
7. While it’s clear Helena loves her two daughters, is she a good mother? In what ways does her own upbringing affect the way she raises Mari and Iris?
8. Is Helena better for being part of society? Is she truly healthier at the story’s end? Will she ever be okay?
9. Does Helena see her responsibilities within her own family differently at the end of the novel?
10. What does Helena mean at the end when she calls it “our story” (p. 291)? How has her life changed during the course of the novel?
11. How does Helena’s relationship with nature shape her view of the world, and does this relationship change once she leaves the cabin? How do the beliefs of the Ojibwa people shape Helena’s values? In what ways do these values suit Helena in the world she discovers outside of the marsh, and in what ways do they hinder her?
12. How does place inform this story? What would the story lose if the setting were changed? Might another setting suit the book, even if it were to change it?
13. Why are we fascinated by stories about survivors of abduction like Helena, whether in fiction or nonfiction?

Customer Reviews

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The Marsh King's Daughter 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The way the fable is woven into the narrative and character is revealed...no way to stop reading to see if Helena can survive another encounter with her past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A terrific heroine caught in a story of beauty, cruelty, and love. Telling the fairy tale along side the story creates a poignant comparison.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book takes you on an intense ride with so many emotional twists and turns!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A real page turner!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quite graphic in spots, more than I thought necessary. Easy to read and well written.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“Before I dropped off the supermarket tabloid grid, people used to ask me what was the most incredible/amazing/unexpected thing I discovered after I joined civilization. As if their world was so much better than mine. Or that it was indeed civilized. I could easily make a case against the legitimate use of that word to describe the world I discovered at the age of twelve: war, pollution, greed, crime, starving children, racial hatred, ethnic violence - and that's just for starters” The Marsh King’s Daughter is the fourth novel by American author, blogger and reviewer, Karen Dionne. On her way home to her school-age daughter, with her three-year-old in the car, Helena Pelletier catches the end of a news report that chills her to the bone. Jacob Holbrook has escaped from jail, killing two guards in the process. Helena is the daughter of a kidnapped girl and her captor, known as The Marsh King. Jacob Holbrook is The Marsh King. “… I was a child. I loved my father. The Jacob Holbrook I knew was smart, funny, patient and kind. He took care of me, fed me and clothed me. Taught me everything I needed to know not only to survive in the marsh, but to thrive”. Because she spent the first twelve years of her life with this man, in the marshes of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, exposed to his Ojibwa legends, his theories, his discipline, Helena knows he can easily evade the manhunt now taking place. She knows where he’s headed and that she will have to be the one to find him. Dionne alternates the narrative between three main time periods: the present day, Helena’s twelve years in the cabin in the marsh, and the period after Helena and her mother left the marsh. The sections of cabin narrative are preceded by quotes from a translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s folk tale of the same title, and parallels between the stories are immediately apparent. This is a thoroughly gripping tale, a true page-turner. Dionne expertly builds up the tension, then halfway through, hits the reader with a real gut punch, before racing to a heart-stopping climax. At the same time, she explores some interesting topics: the effect of being born and raised in captivity; the power of psychological coercion; and society’s resistance to the unconventional, to mention a few. As a bonus, Dionne’s descriptive prose is often exquisite. Dionne’s characters are complex and well rendered. Her extensive research into the flora and fauna of the marshes, the seasonal changes that occur there, Indian customs and folklore, and primitive lifestyles are all abundantly evident in every chapter, but this wealth of information is presented so subtly the reader is barely aware of the knowledge assimilated. Dionne gives the reader a thriller that is thought-provoking and exciting in equal measure. This is a brilliant read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having spent every summer in the U.P. I could relate to nearly every aspect of this story. The author obviously did extensive research of Michigan's U.P. Fantastic story, with believable characters. FYI Michigans upper peninsula is one of the most beautiful, pristine, areas you will ever see. Oh yeah, I highly recommend this book to all.
Tawanna Charney 21 days ago
I loved this book! Great characters, great action, great storytelling!
Anonymous 3 months ago
Loved the way the story unfolded with such depth.
Juliapicks1 6 months ago
This is without a doubt one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever read. It takes you into the mind of a victim like no other book has and brings you to a different understanding of what right and wrong is and how much a moral code can depend on how you are raised. Don’t miss this read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was hooked from the very beginning. Glad I picked it up.
NanceeMarchinowski More than 1 year ago
This book stopped me in my tracks! It read like a true story of a young girl trapped in a world lacking most of what would be familiar to the rest of us. Many times I had to remind myself that this was a fictional tale. This author brought her characters to life, with no predicting the direction the story would take. I held my breath and my heart pounded as I proceeded through the chapters of suspenseful, fast paced action. I highly recommend this book based in the north woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I+read+with+morbid+fascination%2C+this+book+blends+a+dark+fairytale+with+a+child%27s+bleak+story.+Excellently+told+with+twists+and+turns+galore%2C+you+are+left+breathless+until+the+end
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GratefulGrandma More than 1 year ago
THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER by KAREN DIONNE is a fast-paced suspenseful psychological thriller that hooked me from the very beginning and didn't let go until the last page. I couldn't stop listening and found myself doing chores (baking, dishes, folding laundry) just so I could keep listening. THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER is told from Helena’s point of view, alternating between the past and the present. In the present, Helena is happily married with two little girls living on her grandparent's property. She hears the news that "The Marsh King" has escaped from prison. What we learn is that he is her father, who has been in prison for kidnapping her mother at a young age, fathering a child with his captive and murder. She knows she has to keep her family safe and in her mind the best way to do that is to have a showdown with her father. In the past we learn all about her childhood of being raised in captivity where she is actually oblivious to the fact that she and her Mother are being held captive by her father. The way that Helena lived and survived while growing up in the marsh was actually quite amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed her story. Her story from the past and present were both equally compelling to me. This story is described as a mystery and thriller, but I found it to be an excellent drama that was very character driven. There is a rather brutal hunting scene described that many people my find upsetting, but it was used to describe how the native people hunted. Overall, this was a riveting, suspenseful, fast-paced read with a wonderful ending. There was some angst, dark situations, and suspense all rolled into this atmospheric story. The narration of this book was wonderful. Emily Rankin did a great job building tension and displaying the emotion that Helena was feeling. I definitely recommend this story to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers that are very character driven.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Marsh King’s Daughter is a chilling, thought-provoking work of literary suspense. From the very first paragraph—“My mother was famous, though she never wanted to be. Hers wasn’t the kind of fame anyone would wish for.”—readers are immersed in a story that is dark, sophisticated, and exceedingly twisted. The author’s intimate knowledge of nature, combined with authentic descriptions of living off-the-grid, make the book as much of an educational read as an emotional one. Helena, the daughter of a murdering survivalist and the woman he kidnapped, isn’t the most relatable narrator, but the rationalizations she uses to justify her father’s actions make her a fascinating protagonist. The psychological elements of the novel are just as heart-pounding as the cat-and-mouse scenes that take place after Helena’s father, nicknamed “The Marsh King”, escapes from prison. While the hunting scenes were unpleasant to read (animals had to be killed for food), Dionne’s descriptions are deliberate, not gratuitous. They underscore the novel’s main theme: the relationship that exists between captor and captive, hunter and hunted, and the fine line that differentiates predator from prey. The shifting role the protagonist plays—is Helena more like her psychopathic father, who created her reality? Or her kidnapped mother, who kept her alive? —brilliantly reflects the shifting nature of Helga in the original Marsh King’s Daughter by Hans Christian Anderson, scenes of which are excerpted throughout the book. The casual retelling of Helena’s childhood—the accepting, matter-of-fact recollection of her father’s love and brutality—is the most unsettling aspect of the piece, as it takes the reader a second too long to realize how horrifyingly abnormal Helena’s situation was growing up, but this is part of the novel’s appeal. I loved The Marsh King’s Daughter. The eerie, fantastical setting of the marsh is the perfect setting for this dark, cunning novel; I honestly felt a bit like a predator reading this book, holding my breath as scenes played out. I felt like I could see everything that was happening—and sometimes I wanted to close my eyes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The same tragic tale told from an amazing perspective.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gripping story! Very well written.
Thebooktrail-com More than 1 year ago
There’s a lot to say about this one -it was a chillingly brilliant haunting read. The Marsh King takes its title from a Hans Christian Anderson fairy story and we all know how dark those fairy tales can get! Well,this book is dark – a girl who was effectively locked up as those two in that gingerbread house in the forest….. This is a thriller surrounded in mist, dark fog and a very dark heart. Are you brave enough to venture into the woods? This is the twisted version of that story mind – but the way it’s written captivates you as the fairy tales of yesteryear. There’s evil lurking and there’s a cabin in the woods and you just have to read to find out what happens next… And it’s in the heart of those woods where evil and more come to play. Helena has an upbringing which is more at home in a very twisted fairy story. She has had the most unconventional of upbringings and now is the hunter, after her father who has escaped from prison. the twists in this are as delicious as that apple in Snow White – and we all know how that panned out! The key to this novel was Helena and her relationship with both her mother and father. How she now sees the world and how she sees her place in it. The mix of fairy story, that dark Grimm outlook for those trapped, claustrophobia and the genius of having nature and nurture set up for the battle of their lives makes this a crackling thriller which takes you into the heart of the wicked witch and what really went on in those woods..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! I won't forget this book anytime soon! It felt like I was reading true crime, the characters were so well written. We really get to know them. This would be an excellent choice for a book club. So much to talk about. I highly recommend for those who like thrillers.