At a first glance, Shadowlands by Kate Brian appears to be psychological thriller involving a serial killer. However, as the novel moves along, it morphs into a blend of horror and mystery that draws the reader in to the very end.
One day after school, Rory Miller takes a shortcut through the woods near her home, only to be stalked and attacked by her math teacher, Mr. Nell (isn't that every high schooler's nightmare!). In a stroke of luck, Steven Nell slips and Rory fights back, escaping to the road. There she is picked up by her new boyfriend, Christopher, who calls police. It turns out Nell is serial killer, Roger Krauss, who has murdered fourteen girls in the past decade and who has been the subject of an intensive FBI manhunt. The Miller's are ordered to remain sequestered in their home, because Nell has a history of murdering a girl's entire family when he fails to succeed in a first attempt. When police fail to catch Nell, and he demonstrates that he won't be denied Rory, the FBI decide to send the Miller's far away with new identities. But, Nell, notorious for his brilliance, continues to stalk the Millers.
Rory, along with her older sister, Darcy, and their father travel nonstop to Juniper Landing, an island off of South Carolina. During the trip, Rory falls asleep and has a nightmare involving Nell. When she wakes up she is still in the car with her Dad and Darcy, on the ferry to Juniper Landing.
Rory's relief at being on an island soon gives way to a vague unsettled feeling. The island has no phone or internet service and is often surrounding by a creeping fog that blocks out the mainland. Rory and Darcy meet a group of young people; Tristan and Krista whose mom is the mayor of the island, as well as Joaquin and Aaron. Rory's unease increases as she learns that Tristan is watching her from the house across the street.But when people begin disappearing and others on the island don't seem to remember their existence, Rory enters a state bordering on panic. Added to this are signs that Steven Nell has indeed followed Rory to Juniper Landing? Convinced that she and others are in grave danger, Rory begins pressing Tristan and Joaquin for answers. What is going on?
In many ways this novel was both bizarre and fascinating. The situations with the FBI and how they handled Rory's family lacked realism. Rory arrives home in Christopher's car to find her house surrounded by police cruisers while there doesn't seem to be any organized manhunt of the woods (using helicopters and infrared cameras for example) where Rory was attacked. One week after the attack, when their house is broken into, the FBI sends the Millers off on their own to an unknown destination, with new identities.
However, Brian does a great job at ramping up the suspense as Rory struggles to figure out what is happening, while also dropping the reader numerous clues. The presence of a methodical, brilliant killer, mysterious happenings on Juniper Landing, dense fog that seems to have a will of its own, and three deadly encounters with a serial killer keep the tension high.
The story is told mostly from Rory's point of view, but Brian occasionally adds a second narrator, that of the killer, Nell. His chapters are very well done, and especially creepy. Readers may guess at where Rory is and what's happened, but for most part, the ending is a surprise.
A great novel, with a puzzling cover that seems unsuited to the horror and suspense of the story.
The book trailer is well done:
Shadowlands by Kate Brian
New York: Hyperion 2012