Lisa Unger never writes the same book twice. At this point, hopefully readers know that they can always come to a book by this talented author knowing they will be led by skilled hands and that the journey will be a rewarding one. Yet, this has never been truer than with The Stranger Inside, Lisa Unger’s latest release. Not only is it unlike anything she has written before, in many ways it’s unlike a vast majority of the crime fiction on the market. This novel is more about the effects of crime, rather than being focused on the actual crimes, but even that statement diminishes the power of this work.
It is immediately clear that The Stranger Inside is going to examine the long-term effects of trauma, especially trauma inflicted during adolescence. Rain, Tess, and Hank were three childhood friends, virtually inseparable as they navigated the challenges of growing up. One day an incident in the woods changed everything, forever altering the course of their lives. Tess doesn’t survive the ordeal; Hank’s time in captivity inspires him to follow a career in psychiatry; and meanwhile, Rain will forever suffer from survivor’s guilt.
Rain Winters is the main character in The Stranger Inside. Readers are introduced to her at a time when she is taking a leave of absence from her work as a reporter to be a stay-at-home mom for her daughter, Lily. When Rain hears that a murderer who was questionably released from prison has been found dead, she immediately realizes the incident is strangely similar to the murder of the man who destroyed her childhood: Shortly after being released from a mental health facility, Eugene Kreskey was killed in a case that was never solved. Always the journalist, Rain begins to suspect that there is a vigilante on the loose, correcting the errors made by the justice system. Rain’s husband Greg is supportive of her getting back to work, but he is worried this new assignment will open old wounds.
As this storyline unfolds, Lisa Unger gives readers a glimpse into Hank’s current life. Readers quickly discover that Hank has always been in love with Rain and that their complicated relationship has taking many detours over the years. It is fascinating to see how his own history has led to this thriving career and some time in spent detailing Hank’s work with traumatized children. But it also becomes evident that Hank has never been able to escape his past, allowing it to fester to the point of obsession.
Once again, the paths of these two individuals, who share such a singular and unique bond, are about to cross.
What makes The Stranger Inside stand out within the crowded field of psychological suspense thrillers is the structure Lisa Unger uses to unfold her tale. One can imagine how extreme trauma would permeate every waking moment of one’s life – hell, even the non-waking moments – so as a way of conveying this to the reader, Unger weaves the history of what happened to Rain and her friends into the main storyline, in almost a stream-of-consciousness fashion. The forward momentum is constantly interrupted by flashes of the past to the point that readers begin to feel the same anxiety as these characters. Meanwhile, Lisa Unger also makes the incredibly smart decision to juxtapose all of the crime elements with more routine matters. Readers will relate to Rain’s struggle to be a perfect mother, while at the same time trying to satisfy her own personal desires to maintain a successful career. Her insistence that Greg take on some of the duties involved with raising a child are authentic and go a long ways toward bringing these characters to life.
It is impossible to say any more about The Stranger Inside without straying into spoiler territory. However, readers should know this is a novel that will change how you view crime fiction, allowing us to see new angles into stories of this type. By the time readers reach the end, their thoughts and opinions will have shifted several times and even setting the book aside will not allow for respite from the self-reflection this novel demands. You should read this book because it is incredible, but you should also read this book because it should become a touchstone reference point for discussions of crime fiction moving forward.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.