Review: When by Victoria Laurie

Monday, December 29, 2014
Title: When
Author: Victoria Laurie
Genre: supernatural, mystery
Series: none
Pages: 336
Published: Expected January 13, 2015
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Maddie Fynn is a shy high school junior, cursed with an eerie intuitive ability: she sees a series of unique digits hovering above the foreheads of each person she encounters. Her earliest memories are marked by these numbers, but it takes her father’s premature death for Maddie and her family to realize that these mysterious digits are actually death dates, and just like birthdays, everyone has one.

Forced by her alcoholic mother to use her ability to make extra money, Maddie identifies the quickly approaching death date of one client's young son, but because her ability only allows her to see the when and not the how, she’s unable to offer any more insight. When the boy goes missing on that exact date, law enforcement turns to Maddie.

Soon, Maddie is entangled in a homicide investigation, and more young people disappear and are later found murdered. A suspect for the investigation, a target for the murderer, and attracting the attentions of a mysterious young admirer who may be connected to it all, Maddie's whole existence is about to be turned upside down. Can she right things before it's too late?

I don't dislike When as a serial killer mystery, thought the police work is shoddy as hell. (Maybe we could stop focusing on all these teenagers who alibied out and start focusing on this town's disproportionately large population of creepy as fuck middle age men?) I do hate When as a supernatural/fantasy, because it's not one. 

Maddie has the ability to see deathdates, the day a person will die. It doesn't matter if she sees them in person or in photo or if they're already dead. Maddie knows when every one around her will die. And though she's tried for a decade to change these futures, ever since her cop father was killed in the line of duty, she can't.

The problem is the deathdates aren't worked into the story well. Maddie ends up being investigated by the FBI, (after one disappearance, before the local police have even looked into the missing person, much less found a body,) because she warns a woman her son will die. After that, the paranormal aspect is pretty much ignored until the end of the mystery. Sure Maddie tells a lot of people their deathdates, but it's not integral to the plot. Instead we get large sections on how hard it is to be the child of an alcoholic. Laurie writes the tragedy of Maddie's mother well, but it's far from the supernatural mystery I was expecting.

On the positive side, the book is very readable. I finished it in a day, staying up late because I was unable to put it down. I didn't love the reveal of the killer, but the final act is action packed and tense. I liked Maddie and her interactions with her uncle Donnie and the push and pull between him and Maddie's mother. The scene where Maddie finally convinces the FBI agent to listen to her was believable with just the right touch of humor. 

Unfortunately, the end is so saccharine I have a toothache. The few established rules to the extremely underdeveloped supernatural ability are flung out the window. The romance is a joke. Characterizations do 180s with no explanation. <spoiler>The bad guy is now a good guy! The good guy was secretly a bad guy! PTSD is cured though an afternoon of skateboarding! I can overlook a lot in the name of exciting scenes, but the end is a disaster whether you consider this a police story or a supernatural story.

When feels very much like two books. The contemporary drama of high school bullying, alcoholism, and the crushing guilt of not being able to save those around her from their fated deaths is one story and the serial killer procedural is a second. Unfortunately, while I liked some parts, I don't recommend either story, much less the book as a whole.

1 comment:

  1. Yeahhh sounds like a book I'll skip despite the readability :/ The premise is enticing but it doesn't sound like it was executed very well.


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