The Poison Garden by A.J. Banner

A BarksBeachesBooks Review

Who is really the crazy one in the latest psychological thriller from A.J. Banner, The Poison Garden? Because I’ll be honest, it could have been any of them from the first page. The opening page brings us to Elise Watters running for her life with a quick, pulse raising one-and-a-half-page prologue. And then we are purposely disoriented, being thrown back to the “before” of the chase with a calm ferry ride back to her island home after attending business on the mainland.

Elise has an interesting life though it seems she tried to make it as dull and peaceful as possible. No drama, just simple things that make her happy – a beautiful home surrounded by beautiful gardens, running an herbal boutique. But she did just lose her mother. She just got married. She just started working full time in the herbal shop inherited from her late mother. She also just came home early to catch her husband in the middle of an affair…among other things.

On top of that, she’s unearthing secrets as quickly as you’ll flip the pages of this book. And, she’s sleep-walking?! Not entirely strange in and of itself, but the activities she’s enjoying while doing so are a little suspect.

The duality of all these characters is incredible. There is the crazy woman that her husband was caught with (what exactly is she involved in?). Her neighbor is one of her good friends, but also a grieving schemer. Her ex-husband is around every corner because he’s the island’s go-to Mr. Fix IT…or he’s stalking her. Small island; hard to tell. And then there is Elise’s husband himself, good looking, patient favorite Dr. Kieran Lund. He seems like a good guy who made a mistake. He does everything to make it up to Elise-and I mean everything. They go through a lot in such a short time and he really is holding Elise upright. But it’s either him who’s crazy or Elise. It can’t be both…right?

A.J. Banner does such a great job of misdirection in The Poison Garden that you really won’t know what’s what and who’s after who until the very end. I LOVED the ending. Oh my gosh, just such a good twist! (Let’s be honest, twistS.) I highly recommend this fast paced, psychological thriller with a poisonous touch-it’s just up my alley!

And now, a comprehensive list of people I suspected throughout the book: Everyone.

Enjoy!

The Vanishing Season by Dot Hutchison

The team is back in The Collector series by Dot Hutchison! This time Eliza Sterling takes the lead as both detective and story teller in Dot’s most recent case, The Vanishing Season. I am so excited because this is a series that has really stuck with me. Usually I find a series fizzles out after a few books but somehow Dot is doing what others can’t seem to do. I am again, truly, so impressed with her.

Brooklyn Mercer has disappeared. On her walk home from school, the same walk she takes every day, she vanishes without anyone seeing a thing. This throws Eliza and her team into action…a day late. The local authorities didn’t report Brooklyn as a missing child because they were sure they would find her that night. So, their case starts half way to the 48-hour mark, a critical timeframe for missing children.

This is an intense case on top of a currently stressed-to-the-max team as one of their own, Brandon Eddison, is struggling with the time of year: the anniversary of his own missing sister, Faith Eddison. Put all of this together, plus Brandon’s mentor and retired Detective Ian Matson showing up with new links, and suddenly the team has uncovered a chain of missing girls all over the United States. All look alike. All have been the same age. All have been taken during the same time of year, late October to early November, every other year. All have no evidence. It could be a coincidence. It could be a serial kidnapper.

One of the things I love about these books is that each one is told by a different person. Each book also introduces the next likely narrator. In the Butterfly Garden it’s Vic Hanoverian (and a tiny bit of Brandon Eddison) along with Maya telling the unthinkable story of The Gardener. In the next book Brandon takes the lead. It’s incredible how Ms. Hutchison can do this. She tells these amazing stories using all these different characters (from all different backgrounds no less) and yet she does it so seamlessly that I wonder what her real life looks like to do this so effortlessly. (Personally, I imagine she travels all over the world and interviews all kinds of people from different countries and backgrounds to use in her books.)

Another thing that draws me in with this series is that it’s not all serious or all funny or all one tone. Dot seems to really tell the story of a team. Everyone has different personalities, and all are better at something than the others, which contributes to the overall greatness of the team as a whole. Being able to do this makes it harder to stick her books in one genre as well. They are not just horror stories. They also have a true sense of humor as well as drama. They have a true crime sense, as these types of cases are definitely rare but also likely. I’m going to keep calling them thrillers because that’s their best fit but honestly these books would be enjoyable for everyone. Or, mostly everyone. They are “scary stories” after all.

I cannot wait for the fifth book, which there is currently no promise of, but I am placing my bet now: something with dead bodies narrated by the newest team member, Cass Kearney.