We telegraph our inner lives with what we choose to eat, how we eat it, what we wear, how we carry ourselves, the words we use and don’t use. We tell about ourselves in a million small and large ways. And most people don’t even notice, because they’re so busy telling about themselves, listening to the symphony of their own inner lives. But the psychopath doesn’t have an inner life—no attachments, no feelings, no self-doubt, no regrets. Psychopaths just have their own desires, and a single-minded focus to achieve those desires—whatever they happen to be.
Oftentimes when a book is hyped a great deal it can have the opposite effect on readers. This is especially true with thrillers. If I’m told (multiple times) that “you’ll never see it coming” or “you’ll never figure it out” I’m likely to read the book as if it were the text on how to crack the Powerball lottery code. I WILL figure it out. Or so I thought until I read In the Blood: A Novel, the newest novel from Lisa Unger. It’s the story of awkward and androgynous Lana whose personal life, coupled with her personality, has made the years leading up to college traumatic. Her father is on death row for murdering her mother, an act he coerced the young Lana into helping him hide. This plus Lana’s odd quirks, genius level IQ and lack of emotional affect have contributed to her desire for isolation. Despite a brilliant mind she chooses a small quiet college in upstate New York and decides to study child psychology with a focus on troubled children, largely because she wonders if she “…could keep someone from doing something horrible?”
As she heads into her final semester Lana takes a job as an afternoon sitter for an eleven-year-old boy named Lucas. During her interview with the boy’s mother she learns that the child is not all that different from the way she was as a child: manipulative, brilliant, possessive, and sometimes violent. He attends a day school designed to help troubled children and although he is old enough to stay alone after school his mother is afraid of the trouble he might get into. Upon meeting Lucas, Lana realizes that he is indeed much as she was, until the right doctors and medication were able to help balance her mind.
As Lana works with Lucas she is also grappling with her sexuality and her friendship with one of her roommates. When that roommate goes missing and Lucas invites Lana to a treasure hunt that echoes her own past to an eerie degree, she begins to find herself out-maneuvered and boxed in at the same time. Her mental equilibrium is stretched even further when her psychiatrist lets her know that her father is trying to contact her from death row. With each of these elements Unger ratchets up the suspense, taking the novel and Lana’s nerves to the breaking point.
As the novel progresses, Unger parses clues in a way so devious it allows the reader to think they’ve got everything figured out but this is unlikely. Instead, her talent allows some light to get through the intricate plot while leaving plenty of darkness in the final chapters. In the Blood is a twisty tale where nothing is as it seems (or is it?) and yet the title says it all. Suffice it to say…I was surprised.
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