Book Review: Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: William Morrow (September 4, 2018)
Length: 352 pages
Sarah Pinborough is really killing it with her thrillers lately (no pun intended). Her last two books that I read and loved were 13 Minutes and Behind Her Eyes. Even though I discovered her work and became a fan through her fantasy and horror fiction, I’m at the point where I’ll pick up anything she writes, and if she were to continue writing in the psychological suspense genre I would not be disappointed at all.
In Cross Her Heart, we follow the lives of Lisa and her sixteen-year-old daughter Ava. While Lisa can be a bit overprotective, more so than the average parent, and Ava is a typical rebellious teenager, discovering her sexuality and testing her limits, on the outside, theirs is like any other mother-daughter relationship. However, both are hiding secrets that can threaten to tear their lives apart, and neither realize that the other not knowing would ultimately lead them into great danger.
For the moment though, Lisa is content. Ava is doing well at school and has great friends on her swim team. Lisa also loves her job working in the same office as her best friend Marilyn, who is encouraging her to get back into the dating scene. For once, Lisa feels she relax her guard and allow herself to be happy again.
But then one day, that calm is shattered when Lisa comes across a terrifying discovery left for her to find. It is a cruel reminder that she cannot escape her past. Someone knows her secret, and now they’ve tracked her down. Meanwhile, Ava has a new boyfriend, but her mind is on someone else—the one she has been exchanging sexy and exciting Facebook messages with, her secret lover who makes her feel so grown up and independent. Her mother, whom Ava resents for still treating her like a child, would never understand, of course.
Like the author’s previous novel Behind Her Eyes, this one also contains several surprising and game-changing twists, often accompanied by significant shifts in the storytelling. It also explores some rather uncomfortable questions about human nature. Do people change? Few of us are the same as we were when we were children—we grow up, we learn new things, we start seeing the world differently…but do we ever lose the very essence of our personality, the main ingredients that shape who we are? Do second chances and do-overs exist, and can society ever forgive? On the face of it, Cross Her Heart reads like your standard psychological thriller, perhaps slightly over-the-top at times, but it nonetheless gave me plenty of to chew on.
I also loved the relationship dynamics that are the central focus of this novel. Everything about the plot hinges upon Lisa’s love for Ava, or the strength of her friendship with Marilyn. While in my opinion, the portrayal of the supporting cast was rather weak and clichéd (e.g. the “bad men” in this story were all sexist assholes or abusive drunks, the difficult new coworker was predictably a manipulative and conniving bitch, and the police and law enforcement figures who were supposed to be helping were instead painted as apathetic, patronizing, and incompetent), I could tell Pinborough was channeling all her energies on developing the three main characters. All of them—Lisa, Ava, and Marilyn—were flawed individuals too, no doubt. But unlike many of the minor characters in the background, they actually came across like genuine people, each with their personal stories to tell and lives that are fascinating in their own way.
The plot was also entertaining. While I cannot say it was terribly elegant or original since Pinborough does employ a few tricks that can be considered somewhat trite and overused, the story was still nonetheless incredibly fun and addictive. Certain tropes were utilized to great effect, and even though the overall premise was perhaps a little too sensationalist, the villain perhaps a little too outrageous and unbelievable—hey, I still had a great time.
At the end of the day, I love the imagination and magic Sarah Pinborough puts into her fantasy novels, but I also love it when she gets down and real with her bold, gritty, and twisted thrillers. She’s part of a rare group of authors who seem comfortable writing in any genre they set their minds to, delivering crowd-pleasers every time.