By Ekta R. Garg
January 29, 2020
Release date: January 28, 2020
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
A young woman comes home after years in a different country where she’s tried to forget a horrific event from her past. The minute she steps into town, however, it’s almost as if her life has spun backward. Worse, the mystery that sent her running from home is alive and well, a fact that could put her in danger. Author Erica Spindler excites readers in some places but leaves them shrugging in others in her newest novel The Look-Alike.
After spending a decade living with her grandmother in London, Sienna Scott has come home to Tranquility Bluffs, Wisconsin. Contrary to the name, Sienna’s experience in her hometown has been anything but peaceful. She left because of two main reasons. The first was the increasing difficulty she and her family had in managing her mother’s mental illness, persecutory delusional disorder. Her mom, Viv, is constantly fearful that someone or something is plotting to harm her loved ones.
The second reason is linked to the first. While in college, on a walk from the library to her dorm, Sienna came across the dead body of a girl named Madeline Robie. It was clear from Madeline’s condition that the killer had just left her, and after the police investigation that turned up no answers Sienna’s mother’s paranoia got worse. She was convinced the killer would target Sienna next, so her father sent her to England.
After spending ten years studying cooking and working in restaurants, though, Sienna thinks she’s grown up enough to face her worst memories. When she returns to Tranquility Bluffs, her half-brother, Bradley, warns her not to expect a magical turnaround in her mother’s condition. In the time she’s been away, Viv’s just managed to hang on. Sienna believes her coming back can only mean good things for her mother and moves back into her childhood home.
Then she receives word that the police have reopened the investigation into Madeline’s death. Now Sienna is looking over her shoulder, wondering whether random events are really random and whether the people she meets have benign intentions. All throughout her life, she worried that she would become like her mother, seeing threats where none existed and letting those imaginary threats send her into downward spirals of delusions and panic attacks.
Still, she can’t help but wonder if some of her wariness is justified. The cute guy who moved in across the street from her mother is a welcome distraction, but even though the attraction is instant Sienna wonders if he’s hiding something too. She decides to do a little investigating of her own into Madeline’s case. After all, if the police couldn’t find anything in ten years, what’s the worst that could happen?
As she starts to answer that question for herself, though, secrets and lies come to light. She thinks maybe there isn’t any harm in being a little paranoid. Then someone threatens her, and Sienna knows that looking over her shoulder may be the best thing she can do.
Author Erica Spindler sets up all the right mile markers for a murder mystery-turned-thriller, but the book meanders along the way. The story begins with a strong case of how much Sienna physically resembles her mother, adding to her fears of whether she’ll develop a mental illness like Viv. At some point, though, that fact falls away in a sharp manner that might make readers wonder why it was such a big deal in the first place.
The title of the book, in some ways, is a play on words, but it’s kind of a stretch. Red herrings lead readers to make assumptions about who the murderer is, and when the big reveal happens it induces more of an eye roll than a satisfying “aha” moment. The rhythm and cadence of the dialogue in that scene make a drastic departure from the rest of the entire book, which might pull some readers out of the story. Why the need for the formal language all of a sudden?
Certain parts of the story are predictable but somewhat enjoyable. Spindler manages to surprise readers a few times along the way, but overall this thriller reads like many others out there. Wisconsin natives might get a kick out of reading about the fictional town; otherwise, I recommend readers Borrow The Look-Alike by Erica Spindler.