With the release of four novels under her wings – The Black Hour, Little Pretty Things, The Day I Died, and Under a Dark Sky – Lori Rader-Day has established herself as one of the most consistently-excellent and thoroughly-unpredictable writers of crime fiction. Part of this comes from the fact that Rader-Day is writing stand-alone novels, so she has the freedom to explore whatever topic piques her interest at any given moment; but it is impossible to underestimate how unafraid of risk a Lori Rader-Day novel feels. A strong case could be made that her first four novels are deep character studies that happen to have some criminal elements woven throughout. The result of this is a set of novels that read slower and warrant a more considered interaction from the reader, which also means their ultimate success depends on that elusive bond built between the reader and the book. Clearly, she is doing something right because each of the novels has been nominated for multiple awards and won at least one significant prize.
Which brings us to Lori Rader-Day’s latest release, The Lucky One. Again, this is a novel in which character and characterization play a significant role, but I would argue that it is also the most intricately-plotted of Rader-Day’s work. The fusion of relatable characters and a truly gripping plot result in a novel that is compulsively readable and quite literally impossible to stop thinking about – even long after the final pages are turned. As a loyal Lori Rader-Day fan, this feels to me like a major milestone and quite possibly her best book yet. If this author continues to improve with every new release, there is no telling to what heights Lori Rader-Day can soar; but if she were to stop writing tomorrow, her impact on and legacy to the crime fiction genre is already undeniable and enduring.
The Lucky One is a story told from two distinct points of view. There is Alice, who was kidnapped as a child but stands as one of the lucky few who are returned to their family, safe though maybe not completely unharmed. Due to this traumatic event in her life, Alice feels a desire to prevent this from happening to anyone else, so she devotes much of her spare time to working on The Doe Pages – an online resource dedicated to discovering the location of missing people (dead or alive) and the identities of the monsters responsible. One day, while scrolling the website pages she sees the face of the man who abducted her, but even before she can begin to process this information, the listing is removed from the site as though it never existed.
The second point of view in The Lucky One comes from Merrily Cruz, a Hispanic woman who grew up in an unconventional home. Merrily’s mother had a number of men in her life, but Merrily bonded with her step-father Rick. This connection was such that he remained in contact with Merrily for years after the separation, but recently those messages have ceased. Before too long the police are knocking at Merrily’s door, revealing to her that Rick has vanished and wondering if she has clue to where he might be.
This being a well-constructed crime novel, readers can fully expect that these two storyline threads will merge over time, and they do. However, Lori Rader-Day is never one to let her plots unspool in a traditional manner, so readers should expect more than a few surprises and twists in how these two women’s lives become intertwined. Both storylines have subsidiary players who are equally as fascinating and who flesh-out the palette of this complex novel. Alice enlists the help of a “Scooby gang” of fellow Doe Page volunteers to aid her with research and reconnaissance; while Merrily is making some side money by providing “companionship” to needy men via an online app. One of these men seems a bit too willing to help Merrily with anything she needs.
In a time when some corners of the crime fiction output are becoming too predictable and repetitive, readers can always count on Lori Rader-Day to shake things up and present work that is wholly-original. The Lucky One is just the latest example, but given the strengths on display throughout this novel, both fans and new-comers simply cannot afford to miss it.
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.