After being intrigued by Darkness, My Old Friend and captivated by Fragile when the opportunity to get an advanced reader copy of Lisa Unger’s new novel Hearbroken arose, I immediately said yes. Unger is slowly making her way to the top of “must read” list of current mystery writers along with Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly and Elizabeth George.
Heartbroken is less a mystery and more a thriller from Unger. It’s the story of several generations of women and their connection to Heart Island. There’s matriarch Birdie Burke, who lives on and owns the island. Coming to visit the island are her daughter Kate, her granddaughter Chelsea and Chelsea’s friend Lulu. It’s part of an annual family summer visit, though many of those involved aren’t necessarily looking forward to the visit and extended family time. The island harbors some old secrets, several of which Kate has included in her upcoming novel.
Meanwhile, Emily is a young woman struggling to get through college and weighed down by a poor romantic choice. Dropping out of her community college, Emily is waitressing while living with her boyfriend who her family doesn’t approve of. It’s easy to see why when the boyfriend convinces her to help take part in a robbery of the family-owned diner she works for in order to pay off a debt to an old acquaintance. Things don’t go exactly according to plan, leaving Emily and the two men on the lam, looking for shelter. That quest leads them to Heart Island.
Like her other crime novels, Unger is more interested in the impact of the various crimes on her characters than she is on keeping readers guessing the culprit behind the crime. At several points during the story, I found myself wanting to reach in and either hug or shake Emily as she makes one bad choice after the other, each time rationalizing why she’s making the next in a series of bad choices. The journey of Emily and the rest of the characters is a fascinating one because everyone turns out to be harboring a secret or two and nothing is exactly what it appears.
Heartbroken starts out with a solid hook, builds a world with some compelling characters and wraps it all up in a satisfying bow in the novel’s final pages. At times, it’s as page-turning as Fragile was, but it falls just short of being as great as that novel was. However, don’t let that put you off from trying this book. It’s still fresh, entertaining and compelling. It’s also firmly put Unger into the realm of mystery writers whose works I’ll eagerly pick up and read as soon as they hit the market