The best thing about Lisa Unger’s thriller “In the Blood” is the ominous mood it occasionally captures. An icy dread prevails at key moments throughout the story, making this a book best read on a cold winter’s night.
Unfortunately, the novel’s first-person narrator is a whiner, prone to asking herself plot-centric questions over and over again, to the point that it becomes silly. Here’s a short paragraph to illustrate her annoying habit:
“I got dressed swiftly and walked into the living area. What did he mean, time was running out? What had he seen that night? Who had he told? Did he know where Beck was?”
She does that throughout the entire book. I put up with her constant self-pity (the character describes herself as a “misery magnet”), but the way she kept posing questions that the reader should be asking got old really fast.
The mystery plot was okay, but never truly grabbed me. Unger sets up all kinds of nicely creepy elements (a bloody trauma hidden in the past, a series of missing girls on a secluded college campus, a weird little sociopathic boy, an eerie scavenger hunt, a hidden journal…), but there’s not a lot of forward momentum to the narrative.
I wish there was more of a ‘ticking clock’ aspect to the missing person case that fuels the main story. A greater sense of urgency might have helped quicken the reader’s pulse. Instead, events happen at an almost leisurely pace. Part of the problem might be that the missing girl isn’t much of a character. We barely know anything about her, and what little we do know doesn’t particularly warm us to her.
On the plus side, the creepy little boy is a lot of fun in a “Bad Seed” kind of way, and some of the darker elements found in the journal entries interspersed throughout the novel are intriguing. At its best, the book recalls the classic Italian Giallo films from the 60s and 70s. The prologue contains echoes of Dario Argento’s “Deep Red,” and the campus setting reminded me of Massimo Dallamano’s 1972 shocker “What Have You Done to Solange?”
There are two or three semi-decent twists towards the end of the story, but none were all that thrilling. Ultimately, the whole thing felt a bit too safe and somewhat hokey to me. For a novel with the word ‘Blood’ in the title, it could have used a bit more of the stuff.