Some time ago, I tried to read Thin Air, by this same author. I gave up on it because it had one of my most hated things – a road atlas-worthy description of someone driving, for no good reason (i.e., it added nothing to the story) – and because there were a multitude of UK Englishisms that threw one out of the story (hand brake, “that lot”, etc.).
I am very happy I took another chance on Lisa Gray, because Lonely Hearts has none of that: it’s a taut, well-told story about a serial killer, a missing woman, a dead wife, and relatives rightly pissed off at several books that seem to only be written to line the pockets of the author at their expense.
We start off in 1989, with underaged Devin Palmer waiting for her sister Erika. The plan: to have a couple of drinks, and then for Devin to stay the night at Erika’s. Alas, Erika ghosts her sister and spends the night with her boyfriend. Also, alas, Devin – a slightly built redhead with fair skin – is offered a ride home with Travis Dean Ford, AKA the Valley Strangler, so named because he strangles slight, redheaded women who have fair skin with their own pantyhose.
We then go to Christine and Veronica, looking at a pamphlet for the Lonely Hearts Club, a way for people outside to write to people locked up in prison. Veronica writes to Travis Dean Ford, and eventually winds up in a “relationship”, or as much as one can have with someone on death row.
Flash forward, and we’re with Jessica, trawling through trash bags, hoping to find evidence of a man’s infidelity. While she’s doing this, Christen Ryan walks up to her, asking her to find an old friend, Veronica Lowe, and her daughter Mia – Travis Dean Ford’s daughter, that he had with Veronica somehow.
Jessica takes the case, working it alone without much contact with Connor. It seems somewhere between book one, which I did not finish, and the end of book three, they apparently hooked up. But he’s now seeing an exotic dancer, and Jessica is avoiding him.
It isn’t easy to track down someone who willfully vanishes. But Christine gives Jessica quite a lot of information, including a couple of photos. Christine says it’s very important to track Veronica down, because Ford’s wife has been murdered in her own home. Struck on the head, then strangled with pantyhose. Interestingly, Detectives Pryce and Medina find they are not Jordana’s: they were brought to the scene by the killer, deliberately. Copycat?
As we go along, bouncing between timelines and POVs, the mystery becomes ever deeper. Jessica continues to track Veronica, talks to the owner of TLHC business, her husband (who tells Jessica to stop looking for Veronica), several witnesses, trawls through newspaper archives and signs up for TLHC so she can get into the forum and research there, as well.
By now it’s fairly clear that Veronica doesn’t want to be found. We then get several chapters from Jordana interspersed, plugging her book at a bookstore, and feeling as if someone has been following her.
Meanwhile, Jessica helps out Pryce by providing what she’s found, and she’s now on the scent, which leads to another location entirely. It’s just before the end that we get Jordana’s last POV chapter, and then the end is rushing at us.
Although I figured out the killer fairly early, it was still a very good read, capturing not just the characters of Jessica and the people immediately around her, but also the families who suffered at the hand of Travis Dean Ford. One character – the father of one of the victims – complains bitterly to Pryce and Medina that they don’t know the names of the 15 girls and women Ford killed. They only know Ford’s name. I thought that an astute observation.
There are no laggy parts, and there isn’t anything that rips the reader out of the world Gray has built. The plot is sensible, and no one does anything that is out of character. I’m glad I took the chance on the series again.
A five star read.
Thanks to Amazon UK and NetGalley for the reading copy.