>> Monday, March 03, 2014
Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.
But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.
Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.
Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.
Olivia Taylor Jones is a very privileged young woman whose perfect life blows up when she discovers she's adopted. The problem is not so much the adopted bit, but that her birth parents are serial killers Todd and Pamela Larsen, a notorious couple who are currently in jail for life, after being convicted for a spate of ritualistic killings. The revelation sparks off an unbelievably over-the-top media frenzy, which results in Olivia having to go into hiding until things die down.
Olivia finds a refuge in the strange small town of Cainsville, just outside of Chicago, and not by chance. We readers know that mysterious forces are clearly at work trying to ensure Olivia ends up there and is protected. She's very ambivalent about her birth parents, but after she meets her mother, she's persuaded to investigate the last murder they were accused of, one for which Pamela is convinced there is evidence to prove them innocent. And as Olivia does so, it becomes clearer and clearer that she has some sort of paranormal power herself.
Well, what a disappointment. It didn't start well. There was something off straight from the beginning, in the way the situation was set up. I found the reaction of the whole wide world at the revelation of Olivia's identity to be over-the-top and unbelievable. Yes, it would have been a very juicy story, since she had been adopted by such a well-known family and was a relatively public figure herself, but a mob breaking into the house, seriously? And I might be naive and optimistic, but surely most people (anyone not completely disturbed) wouldn't judge a little girl for what her parents did? I think what didn't work well here was that we don't find out until a lot later what exactly the Larsens are supposed to have done, what was so heinous about it, and even when we do, it's bad but not particularly shocking.
I also had issues with Olivia choosing to go without her money during her escape. It's initially presented from her point of view as getting away from the spotlight, just allowing things to calm down a bit so that unwanted, hostile attention doesn't fall onto the people she cares about. There didn't seem to be any element of "now that I'm adopted I don't deserve this money" there. So what's she trying to prove by her no-money stunt, when doing that makes it less likely she'll be able to keep out of sight, therefore actually sabotaging her stated aim? It feels silly and contrived, plot- rather than character-driven.
Things did improve once Olivia washed up in Cainsville, and Armstrong managed to get me really intrigued with her little hints and clues. Very weird things kept happening, and I couldn't wait to find out what was really going on.
Problem is, by the time we got to the end, I was still just as much in the dark. The ending was terrible, a bizarre combination of cliff-hanger and things just fizzling out. It was utterly unsatisfying, with not much being resolved, and yet (at least in my case) no sense of urgency to find out more.
There were hints of good stuff there, like Olivia's struggle to reconcile her emerging memories of total and absolute love for her birth parents and what she now knows about them, but nowhere near enough.
MY GRADE: A D.