"Ring-a-rooound the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
WE ALL FALL ... "
Ehemmm, down *clears throat*
Whaaaat? Okay, so I had a little moment there. But can you say 'nostalgia?' I can vividly remember how this song irritated the hell out of my neighbors. They would yell, "Wouldja take that racket somewhere else?! But the other kids and I would simply ignore them and laugh hysterically, screaming at the top of our lungs over and over again. At that point, they wanted to strangle us... yeah, good times. Fast forward to the present day and I now have the luxury of associating this fun jingle with a smartly crafted psychological thriller by Tom Bale and the title of one of my favorite Kanye West songs (before his rant days). Ahhhh... it's a gift that just keeps on giving.
Meet the Turner family. They're having an innocent little barbecue on a Sunday. The birds are chirping, the dogs are barking, the flowers are blooming and then stumbles in a bloodied dying man at their back gate (hey, thanks for ruining the scenery pal). He's beaten to a pulp, barely able to utter his last few words in a shaky voice: HELP ME.
Doesn't take a genius to know that this sets off all kinds of alarms. Rob, Wendy, and the kids are baffled to say the least. They don't know what to make of the incident. They're scared shitless as any normal family would be. They call for an ambulance but the poor man falls short of making it to the hospital. And then the levee breaks... which causes a rush of questions to pour in: Who was this mysterious man? Who opened a can of whoop ass on him? And why of all places did this man decide to turn up at their doorstep for help?
A warning... perhaps?
Shortly after, the Turners dismiss it as one of those "in the wrong place, at the wrong time" type of deals but soon their lives are threatened in ways they wouldn't have thought was imaginable (one could only wish they've had Liam Neeson as a personal bodyguard, that guy doesn't mess around). As the days go by, strange things start to happen and it becomes clear that they're being watched from a sadistic third party with a shady agenda. But when hidden secrets come into the light, it also becomes clear that the Turners aren't the one big happy family you're lead to believe. So... are they really victims of random circumstances or just pawns of a game that ties into their dealings in the past?
Can they save themselves before the clock expires – or will they end up paying the price for committing such a selfless act? (dun dun dun duuuuun)
Man, this story is an open invitation to screw with your head in the worst way possible. It punches you around, kicks you down to the ground, sticks out a hand and then quickly pulls it back while smiling triumphantly at you. And instead of being upset with the taunting bullied abuse, I found myself smiling in return. So much that I practically begged for more of it like "is that all you got?!" with a busted nose and some missing teeth. And that's probably because this Bale guy can clearly write his ass off. Probably because the Turner family exhibited wonderful characterization and they felt like flawed lifelike people as opposed to empty discarded FedEx boxes. Probably because the tension had the effectiveness of never letting off the proverbial gas even in the story's quieter atmospheric moments. Probably because just about every chapter ended on a compelling high note, with me itching to swipe left to get to the next chapter in the wee-hours of the night on my kindle. Yup, it went down.
A couple of things prevented me from giving this 5 stars though. I thought it became too much of a crowd-pleaser for me near the end. I would've personally liked it more if some scenes had not shied away from taking the ramifications up a notch for the main characters. Nothing particularly BAD happened to them. Call me a sicko but I like my thrillers dark with a capital "D" prepackaging label. Maybe then, I would've actually felt something for them which is weird because they were so well-developed.
And while I'm all for twists and surprises like the next reader, there was one revelation in particular that was just ridiculous. Despite it leaving my jaw resting on the floor, it just felt like overkill. From that point on, it turned the whole thing into a Jerry Springer episode (God I hated that show).
I've been hearing a lot about See How They Run, another book from Bale. Sounds like another potential winner. Think I'll get to that one as soon as I stop chanting "Georgia the Saaavage."
A thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.