Welcome to Mystery Monday. Today’s feature is by a new author to me, Megan Miranda, and is an intense psychological thriller. The Perfect Stranger is the first person narrator, Leah Stevens, who reconnects with her friend and former roommate Emmy at a turning point in her life. Leah has royally ruined her career in journalism by refusing to name a source and, in the hope that rumours of a civil suit will disappear, agrees to quit her job on the Boston Post. Looking to reinvent herself, an accidental meeting with Emmy, who is running from a violent ex-fiancé, finds the pair off to a small town in rural Pennsylvania where Leah will teach high school English and Emmy will work part-time night shift at a motel and do some daytime cleaning assignments.
Life slowly comes off the rails when first, the basketball coach from the high school (married) tries to put the moves on Leah. Then, she starts to get phone calls late at night with suggestive messages and heavy breathing. A neighbourhood woman — a Leah look alike — is found by the lake with her head bashed in. When Leah realizes she hasn’t seen Emmy for several days and none of the sticky messages she’s left for her have been picked up, she alerts the police to her disappearance. As Leah tries to piece together information about Emmy for police detective Kyle Donovan, it begins to dawn on her that she hasn’t a lot of hard information on her roommate — Emmy has left no paper trail: no name on a lease, no vehicle registration, no participation in the Peace Corps, no credit cards, nothing. Then, Emmy’s battered up station wagon is pulled from the lake with her current boyfriend in it — his throat cut.
As Leah starts to connect the bits she remembers, the new pieces she’s discovering, and the parts she overlooked along the way, she begins to have a new perspective on her relationship with Emmy and who she really is. When Leah looks at it from the police perspective, she realizes it appears as if Emmy is a figment of Leah’s own imagination and that she herself is the prime suspect in two murder investigations. She becomes more resourceful and confident as she starts following a vague trail Emmy has left for her and soon realizes how she had been the perfect stranger for Emmy. She learns more about herself, her family, and how her own openness made her incredibly vulnerable in so many ways, and how, despite the terrifying events that have marred her first semester, her fresh start will be even better than she had first hoped.
This story is fraught with tension from the very first page and builds slowly and carefully, as the author fills in Leah’s personal past and what little she knows of Emmy. It is further complicated by a budding relationship with the handsome, young Detective Donovan, the mysterious attitudes of some of her students, the story of the campus suicides that she’s convinced were murders, and the tenuous thread between Emmy and an arson/manslaughter charge the first murder victim had spent 8 years in prison for committing. I’ll definitely be reading more of this author. * * * * *
If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mentioning my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review. You can also copy my MMM badge to your post.