The Stranger Inside: Jennifer Jaynes
I living within their own worlds Alexa and Josh Christie find themselves entangled in places that they will never recover from. Within Alexa’s world are ways to downgrade her mother, take enough pills to feel no pain, act as if she does not care about anything or anyone but herself and often leaves herself wide open for comments that she won’t be able to handle, ridicule, betrayals from friends and finding her own route to isolation and loneliness. Josh, her brother, seems to be the favored child since being rescued and adopted at a young age. Their father, Frank killed himself as the author graphically describes the scene they all came upon when finding him in his study. Diane Christie is a famous and well-known mystery thriller writer whose work is well renowned and who struggled for a long time until her craft and stories became well known as a best selling author.
This story opens on an eerie and frightful note as someone senses that she is being followed, Finding her way back home and hoping to enter her before the person she thinks is following her takes action. Not supposed to walk home alone, thinking it was not that far, little does she know it would not have matter since this person was determined to take her life because he could not help himself.
Sometimes people have an inner sixth sense and can foretell when something bad is going to happen. Diane Christie senses something and feels as is written in italics that “something is very wrong,” but what she does not know. Her husband is dead, her daughter hates her and shows only contempt and distain for her and her son appears to be her only ally. Texting her daughter she often does not get a response and wanting her to come for Thanksgiving will prove quite interesting and the outcome not what you might expect. Josh is smart, aces most of his tests and has a breathing problem, which requires treatments. Diane like any other mother worries and often seems to favor him because of his health issues and because she feels estranged from her daughter. Living in the town of Fog Harbor, she and Josh moved there after Frank, her husband committed suicide. Alexa is attending a college and her roommate Trish seems to care about her but in reality she too finds fault with her and although she appears to be her friend you might wonder about that after you get to know her. Diane just wants to have a normal life and normal family but tragedies sometimes follow you even in a new place. While Alexa finds a way to stay far away and hides her true feelings for her mother, we learn as the story goes on that at one time she was kind and sweet but now everything her mother does is wrong, she talks back, she even steals her mother’s sleeping pills to use for her own way of escaping the world and any liquor she can stash, hide or drink helps keep her from dealing with the harsh realities of life. Josh appears to be kind, caring and at times too cooperative but when he teams up with his sister after calling her out on taking the pills things take on a deadly and drastic turn. Writing is Diane’s mainstay and focusing on it is what keeps her centered and working at the crisis center as a volunteer on the crisis hotline helps her and others dealing with their own personal losses. But, the author flashes back several times to Frank, their relationship and what finally causes him to take his own life. Alexa attends a college and when Diane receives a call from an unknown caller at the crisis center the caller states that someone named Katie was a victim or murder and the chilling call alerts Diane that there is much more to what the caller is saying. Claiming that she is the only one that can stop whatever this person has started. Lance and Mary Jane work along side of her at the center. Lance works in the Fog Harbor police department and Mary Kate is the shift supervisor. Reporting the call, questioned by two detectives Diane does not realize that this is just the first of three murders or maybe more. Did the murderer confess to her for some reason? How can she stop the murders? But, focusing on Josh and Alexa and Thanksgiving gives her much pause for some positive thought and inviting Lance and Mary Kate hoping it would be a great occasion. But, Mary Kate is ill and Alexa’s roommate Trish sought of invites herself and the entire dinner is quite revealing. Both girls go to New Cambridge College and the murder victim was a student there too. The caller on the phone said the name Katie and the victim’s name had not been released by the police. Telling this person that they are the crisis hotline answering that he/she had a crisis about the murder, telling her she was the only one that could stop it.
Filing a report with Mary Kate before going home, calling Alexa and getting no response, did not help alleviate her anger or frustration. Alexa is always depressed and although she did see someone and was given medication she chooses to use her mother’s sleeping pills as her mode of escape. Living in a tiny apartment not that far from her mother, who supports her, gives her money to use for food and anything else she needs plus pays for her phone, she lashes out at her every step of the way jealous of Josh even though he has been there since he was an infant. When Katie is murdered and states her concerns, Alexa becomes more hateful, nasty and could care less about her mother’s concerns. The voice on the phone was changed using a voice changer and the police are concerned about Diane even after she gives her statement. Things settle down to a point for a short time but when Diane realizes that her pills are missing and some of her liquor, she knows that Alexa took it and refuses to allow her to come home. Angry, not reaching out to her makes Alexa even more angry and despondent. Drinking and driving and even finding herself in her car after falling asleep should have alerted her to the fact that she has a problem but pushing it aside with more pills was the answer. Driving home her car breaks down, she calls Josh and the scene is almost comical and the end result is she has to stay at home at least until her car is fixed.
Wayne is the manager of the local store and for some reason has taken an interest in Diane and often helps her gather her purchases before checking out. Meeting Rick in the market was interesting and was the start of a relationship that will make you wonder about him, his motives and just what he might be hiding too. But, sometimes the warning signals are there but you choose to ignore them and when she sees him on a casual date you can feel the heat rising and you know that it is a matter of time that the author is going to bring these two together.
First, there is another murder of a girl named Jill and the author shares with readers the killer’s thoughts, how he stalks her and the reasons why he just has to kill her. Calling the crisis line this person once again confesses to the murder and names the girl, Jill, and Diane gets a sick feeling in her stomach and how is she going to handle it this time? Informing Mary Kate and Lance who others seem to distrust, they questions her again and you begin to think that in real live she is reliving her own murder mysteries but will she be able to solve this one the same way she solves them in her books?
Things spiral out of control when Jill’s body is found and then another murder occurs as Trish is the next victim but not before texting Alexa with a bogus message about Lance, the cop. As the murders come into the forefront Ellie, comes to visit Diane and the two go out, have some fun and Rick comes to the rescue to take them both home. Forming a bond with Josh, Alexa thinks something is out of whack with him as the power goes out in their house, they have to stay with him and when she decides to snoop does not like what she finds out. Warning her mother about him as she confronts him, jumps to the wrong conclusions but not before something triggers in Diane’s brain and the pieces start to fit together and one phone call might change the dynamics of her life and that of her family’s too. Who killed the three girls? Why? What reason does this person have? What does Rick have to hide and what role will he play in order to appease Diane when she realizes the truth? Alexa realizes too that she can help her mother for the first time but will she when the danger settles in, the truth behind the killings happen and they have to decide just how far they will go to protect each other. Sometimes dangers are right there and you never know when you are living in your own home or backyard with A Stranger Inside! Characters that are chilling, dysfunctional and at times disjointed in their thinking and actions the ending is startling, chilling and you wonder whether the author is not finished with them and has more in store for all of them when you learn just who is The Stranger Inside!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine