Book Review: You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
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: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Books (April 21, 2020)
Length: 256 pages
Wow, what did I just read!? Talk about being bowled over, considering I’d been on the fence on this book for a while due to the strangeness of its description. Admittedly, I only picked up You Let Me In because it had been languishing in my review pile and I needed a quick fantasy read for Wyrd & Wonder, but I ended up loving it to bits. Guess it just goes to show, you never know until you try.
But first, if you’re considering this book, my advice is not to put too much stock in its synopsis, which severely undersells what it’s actually about. This is no mere crime drama or murder mystery, for its true nature defies genre labels and encompasses so much more. At the heart of this tale is Cassandra Tripp, a 74-year-old romance author known for her steamy novels and the fact she was the main suspect at the murder trial of her husband almost forty years ago. Although she was acquitted, many questions related to the case were never solved, and now Cassandra is missing, leading police to believe that her disappearance may be linked to her dubious past. As more than a year has passed since she vanished without a trace, however, the authorities have reason to believe she is dead, thus putting in motion the procedures stipulated in her will regarding her sizeable estate.
In life, Cassandra was an eccentric prone to flights of fancy, so it was no surprise to anyone, least of all to her niece Penelope and nephew Janus, that her last wishes were filled with bizarre conditions. As her sole beneficiaries, they were each given the same instructions: to go to their aunt’s house in the woods, find a manuscript in her study and discover within a password that they can use to claim their inheritance—that is, should they decide they still want it after reading the manuscript, which turns out to be a wildly uncanny and oftentimes chilling account of Cassandra’s life growing up among a group of faeries only she could see, as well as the truth of what really happened to her husband.
As you’ve probably guessed, You Let Me In is this manuscript, a tell-all style memoir told from Cassandra’s point of view, revealing a troubled childhood and a long history with mental illness—or at least, that’s what her parents and the doctors said were the causes of her odd behaviors and anti-social tendencies. But to Cassandra, her faeries were very real, and it all began with the Pepper-Man, who is nothing like a child’s typical imaginary friend. A monstrous creature, he started visiting Cassandra when she was just a girl, and as you’ll soon see from this dark tale, he’s had a hand in almost everything bad that has happened to her since, even if no one believes her.
Although the niece and nephew are just peripheral pieces in this novel, I think it helps that the author really puts you in their shoes from the start, so that as the reader you feel fully invested in knowing the outcome of the story. After all, a lot of money is on the line, and the opportunity to finally learn everything there is to know about your crazy aunt is just too tempting to resist. But after a while, Cassandra’s voice emerges as a powerful force on its own, and then of course, the tragedies, shock, and horror take over in providing a strong hook. Let’s just say calling this one a twisted fairy tale is an understatement, for I guarantee it will mess with your mind in more ways than it’s ever been messed with before.
One reason for this is the unique way this narrative unfolds, and here I really have to hand it to Camilla Bruce for taking on this challenging mode of storytelling and pulling it off with flying colors. It relies on the unreliable narrator device to some extent, resulting in multiple versions of events, leaving it up to you to decide what to believe. The intrigue and mystery behind this aspect of the novel was what appealed to me the most and kept me glued the pages. That said, I can see how the unconventional style might turn some readers off, and I suspect the fact that we’re stuck in Cassandra’s head the whole time will also make some folks uncomfortable. It isn’t always a happy or nice place to be, and whether it’s due to some past trauma or just the way her brain is wired, sometimes her reactions or attitudes will come across frustratingly dispassionate or just plain off. Finally, this book also deals with some sensitive topics and difficult subject matters some readers might struggle with, so I advise discretion.
If this book sounds like something you would enjoy though, go ahead and check it out. I for one am glad I gave it a try, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more by Camilla Bruce, because if this is what she has for us for her debut, she clearly has a promising writing career in front of her.