Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Georgina Shaw, Angela Wong, and Kaiser Brody were best friends as teenagers in the ‘90s . Then Angela vanished without a trace. Years later Geo is a rising executive engaged to be married to a wealthy man, and Kaiser is a homicide detective. When Angela’s body is discovered the police find evidence proving that Geo’s old boyfriend, Calvin James, killed her. Worse yet, Geo knew that he’d done it yet didn't turn him in for it, and he’d gone on to murder several other women after that. Kaiser is the one who arrests Geo for being an accessory to Angela’s murder.
And you thought your high school reunion was awkward...
Geo testifies against Calvin and gets five years in prison for her part in the crime. Shortly after she begins serving her sentence, Calvin breaks out of jail, and Kaiser is sure that Geo is still holding things back. Five years later as Geo is about to be released, fugitive Calvin kills more people in such a way that is designed to draw Geo’s attention. Geo just wants to try to rebuild her life, but Kaiser is still sure she’s keeping secrets even as he finds it increasingly hard to deny the attraction he feels towards her.
When you summarize the plot it sounds like the set-up to TV movie you might see on Lifetime that would have a title like My Lover Killed My Best Friend. One of the great things about this book is that it doesn’t play out that way at all. Jennifer Hillier has written both Geo and Kaiser in such a way that they seem like real people. We know that despite moving on with her life that Geo was filled with shame and regret, and we also see from her time in prison that she’s both tough and intelligent. Kaiser has his own issues, and it’s clear that he never entirely got over his feelings for Geo even as he’s shocked and angry when he realizes why she distanced herself from him back then.
The clever thing here is the structure which manages to start the story at one point in time, flashback to their high school days repeatedly, and then still move forward five years as well. So we see Geo and Kaiser at various stages in their lives, all of which turns out to be important to the plot.The book also seems to lay out the whole sordid tale right up front, and then manages to somehow make us feel like we know Geo’s story completely even as there are nagging clues indicating, just as Kaiser suspects, that there’s more to this then she’s told everyone.
When the answers come at the end, it’s done in a way that provides shocking revelations and surprises, and the story doesn’t play out in the way I expected at all. Yet Hillier plays fair, and doesn’t pull any tricks to make this work. It’s all been built up via excellent character work to make it all pay in the end.
I picked this one up at Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas after seeing Hillier on a couple of panels where she talked a bit about this novel, and she seemed very sharp and funny. The book lived up to what I hoped for and then some.
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