Friday, November 30, 2018

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier: Reading Room Review

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Wow! This book will grab you and spin you round by its story and characters and make you think long and hard about the repercussions of a horrific crime. But, what gobsmacked me was how Jennifer Hillier forces the reader to acknowledge that murder is not always a black and white matter and ask the question, "Are there degrees of guilt?" and "Can there be redemption for a monstrous act?" This story lays bare what happens when the wrong path is chosen, when an otherwise sane and good person falls into the dark abyss of evil. And, it makes you ponder the "what if" questions of choices that lead to just another normal day or the worst day of your life and murder. The writing is simply superb and the timeline in which Hillier reveals the story and back story is brilliant. This author knows how to maximize the suspense and shock. Just when you think you know what the whole story is, you are given yet another piece of the puzzle that changes everything. 

The basic story is that Georgina Shaw at the tender age of sixteen falls in love with a bad boy, a very bad boy who is five years older than she. Events and choices lead to the death of Angela Wong, also sixteen and Georgina's best friend since fourth grade. It's no secret to readers that Georgina's, or Geo's, bad boyfriend Calvin James killed Angela, but Geo helps cover it up for fourteen years. After fourteen years of uncertainty for Angela's parents and other friends, her bones are found buried in the woods behind Geo's house where she grew up. Now thirty and in a successful career with a rich fiance, Geo is arrested for her part in the crime. She gets off with a five-year sentence for testifying against Calvin, whom she hasn't seen for all those years. Calvin is also charged with three subsequent murders, having acquired the name Sweetbay Strangler in his infamy, and the prosecution wants him put away. The most gruesome part of Angela's murder that the public learns is that Angela's body was cut up into pieces and buried in several different grave sites. Geo's life quickly changes, as she's sentenced to five years in prison. Her prestigious job is gone, her fiance is gone, and the community of Sweetbay in Seattle turns against her. She is resigned to her fate of prison and feels that it is where she belongs for covering up the murder of her friend whom she loved dearly. 

Jennifer Hillier doesn't sugar coat Geo's time in prison. It's prison and it's tough. Geo's time spent incarcerated is handled with an honesty of description that gets ugly at times, but there's nothing included that isn't authentic and relevant. The adjustment that Geo has to make to "normal" life after prison must be all to familiar to those who have served time and had their freedom of movement and choice curbed. It's another example, too, of how Hillier gives a complete picture of Geo and her emotions and character. I became wholly invested in Geo, caring about the outcome of her tragic story. Much of the story begins after Geo is released from prison and comes back to live with her father (mother died when she was five) in the same house in which she grew up, the same house by the woods where she and Calvin had buried Angela. Geo's homecoming is not a welcome one by the community, but she is a strong person who believes in putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. 

But moving forward will be interrupted by a new series of murders which started right before Geo gained her freedom again, murders with the bodies of the women victims dismembered, and the first one buried in the same locations as Angela was. Detective Kaiser Brody (Kai) is the policeman who breaks it to Geo about the new murders that he thinks are by Calvin James, too, which is possible because Calvin escaped from prison shortly after his conviction. Kaiser is also the cop who arrested Geo for her part in Angela's murder, and he happens to have been her other best friend before Angela died in high school, a part of the trio comprised of Geo, Angela, and Kaiser. And, he was in love with Geo when she chose Calvin as her first love. Lots of history, lots of emotion, lots of unfinished business. 

So, now Geo is living under the threat of Calvin returning to her life with murder on his mind and on his agenda. Kaiser is hellbent on catching Calvin again and returning him to prison to rot out his remaining days. But, there are many miles to go before they sleep and many secrets to unravel, secrets that the reader won't see coming, which, of course, makes them that much more chilling. The road to the truth is a long and twisted one, and revenge is still a dish best served cold.

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