Book Review – What Lies Behind by J.T. Ellison

This would be the second book in the “Samantha Owens” series I’ve read by Ellison, and….. well it’s pretty similar to the previous one. In short, it’s a readable thriller, but not exactly what I was expecting (read: psychological thriller).

I haven’t read many series, because I like to read a fresh story from a new perspective. Furthermore, this is the kind of story in series that are written in a way that the reader needn’t necessarily have read the previous book in order to understand the plot. Hence, if you have read the previous book you would be lambasted with an introduction to the main recurring characters you would have already learnt about in the previous book. A double edged sword argument here – the writer tries going in-between to please a majority audience.

Very very short spoiler-free executive summary: Medical examiner-turned lecturer Samantha Owens gets drawn into a national security situation. Many people killed. She, along with her ex-US Army Ranger boyfriend and friends from the FBI, etc work to uncover a multinational terrorist plot threatening to kill millions.

I feel that this book suffers from the same issues as the previous one in the series – fragmented plot and too many characters whose link to the main plot are not clearly mapped out. I got confused again as to how the roles of some of the characters, aside from the 3 main ones, are actually tied to the terrorism plot. However, after awhile (and might I add – just like the previous book), I realized you didn’t actually need to know in order for the story to advance. So I just soldiered on.

Story only gets really exciting at the very last bit. The huge part before was a mediocre read. Not bad, but like I said, mediocre. I guess this would probably be the last book I will read for this genre by same author. If there was another one with a more domestic setting, I might give it a go.

Rating: 3/5

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Book Review – When Shadows Fall by J.T. Ellison

I’ve been looking around for psychological thrillers by this author as her name was thrown among the list of authors allegedly praiseworthy in this genre. A lover of psychological thrillers ( ahem: me) always looks forward to the recurring instruments used, i.e., unreliable narrators, alcohol(sometimes)-induced blackouts and the like, with increasing anticipation at how they are eventually executed. I was ever so slightly skeptical when I held the paperback in my hands. The cover design didn’t feature your typical “lady in a red dress” or “a pair of all-seeing eyes” (you know what I’m talking about – the book version of a “clickbait”). In fact, the color scheme didn’t even scream “modern”, but looked 10 to 20 years before its time. With that lowered expectation in mind, I took the plunge..

Samantha Owens is a pathologist. Having performed autopsies on bodies for a long time now, she recently retired to teaching. On the first day of work, she receives a letter from a man, telling her that he has died and asks of her help to solve his death. Things escalate quickly and she gets caught up in this mystery as people who are involved starts dying. Together with her ex-FBI colleagues and her ex-armed-forces boyfriend, she rushes to uncover the mystery.

Writing makes for easy reading and the occasional nuggets of interesting romantic developments, unexpected plot twists and outlandish point-of-view from the characters kept me going. I felt that the characters were not exceptionally well developed and some parts were unbelievable. However, the ease of reading and unexpected developments somehow makes up for it. Don’t come here expecting a huge plot twist or unreliable narration though, most of the characters are pretty honest.

The main characters, Samantha (or Sam as it is often referred to in the story), as well as her FBI friend Fletcher are very likable ones. This is one story where it’s pretty much good vs. evil, not much grey area.

On the downside for me, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the intricacies of the main sub-plot. There were characters like Doug, Detective Frederick, and a whole bunch whom I can’t remember the names of. Ellison tries to explain through Sam and Fletcher how they were involved and even throws in a final chapter adding ” I guess by now you know I killed…..” as if to point me in the right direction, but it was still very confusing for me. I know I’m supposed to go “aha!”, but my brain went “huh?” on me. Eventually, I realized you didn’t really need to know; so just skim past those parts, I promise it will be okay.

Rating: 3.5/5 (decent read, moderately interesting, falls short on character development, not really typical of a psychological thriller, somewhat confusing in the details)