It would be difficult to conjure up a more consistent writer than Carol Goodman. While each of her books is different in tone and style, there are unifying elements that mean readers who enjoy one of her novels will most likely find enjoyment in each of the others. The most recent, The Stranger Behind You, carries on her tradition of unique settings with heavy ambiance, strong female lead characters, and secrets from the past that resonate though time to make for another surprising and satisfying psychological mystery.
From the moment the #metoo movement took hold in our modern society, it was inevitable that readers would be inundated with books that analyze this predatory behavior from various angles, but the various iterations possibly within the realm of toxic interactions continue to confound (and because we know them to be realistic, depress.) In The Stranger Behind You, Carol Goodman focuses on the women – both as direct victim and collateral damage – but also reminds us that this behavior is nothing new and there are countless casualties who never saw justice served in the decades leading up to the current, buzz-worthy, outrage.
The Stranger Behind You opens with the publication of Joan Lurie’s article exposing a high-powered newspaper tycoon’s history of sexual harassment. On the eve of the article’s release, Joan is attacked on the dark streets of Manhattan. Suffering from post-traumatic stress and the after-effects of a concussion, Joan’s fear becomes too much to handle and she moves to a new, ultra-secure apartment complex called The Refuge.
Within The Refuge, Joan meets another resident – Lillian, a 96-year-old woman who went into hiding in the facility back in the 1940s when it functioned as a Magdalen Laundry for wayward and “fallen” girls. As Lillian begins to recount her history, Joan feels a bond with the woman and their shared experiences dealing with toxic masculinity. The more she learns, the more Joan realizes that the threads of their story may be more interwoven than even she could have originally imagined.
Meanwhile, recent widow Melissa Osgood is finding out just how many secrets her husband had. The deeper she digs into his past, the more troubling information she uncovers – much of it tangled up in Joan Lurie’s newspaper exposé. To find the answers – and in her mind, to defend her husband’s legacy – she begins to stalk Joan, a path that leads her directly to the doors of The Refuge.
Carol Goodman uses alternating points of view – Joan and Melissa – to unspool her complex story. The historical elements come from Lillian’s tale of the building’s origins and while some elements here are a bit predictable, Goodman plants enough convincing revelations to make for a satisfying and still unexpected conclusion. The Refuge, a modern apartment complex with a storied past, works well as a Gothic locale both because of that tragic history and by its nature of isolating the resident’s with high-level security, which allows them to let down their guard at a time when maybe they should be extra vigilant.
Carol Goodman knows how to write strong and complex women – as evidenced by her repeated winning of the Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award – and The Stranger Behind You is a prime example. This is a thrilling book that will both keep readers turning the pages and inform them about a lesser known slice of American history.
To hear more about The Stranger Behind You, join Carol Goodman and I at the virtual More Than Malice, where I moderate a panel she is featured on, discussing the various sub-genres within the crime fiction umbrella. With over 100 crime authors, there is literally something for everyone! Online next week for the low price of $60.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.